Posted by: Raymond McDougall on 12.05.2015 | Filed under: Latest, Recent Mineral Updates | Comments (0)


I’ve added Part 2, a new Nova Scotia Update (click here) with minerals from the Bay of Fundy. The specimens from this update are from different Bay of Fundy localities from last week, and include superb gmelinite crystals, sharp analcime crystals and sparkling natrolites.

I’ve also posted two articles on the blog: Mineral Collecting in Nova Scotia’s Bay of Fundy (click here) and Mineral Collecting on the Islands – Bay of Fundy (click here) to give a little sense of what is behind the specimens from this region. To see mineral specimens from the Bay of Fundy currently available for sale, click here.

This week’s update includes some gorgeous specimens from Two Islands, Five Islands and Cape Split.

 Gmelinite, Two Islands, Cumberland Co., Nova Scotia, CanadaGmelinite, Two Islands, Cumberland Co., Nova Scotia, Canada – 2.7 cm

Gmelinite, Two Islands, Cumberland Co., Nova Scotia, CanadaGmelinite with Heulandite, Two Islands, Cumberland Co., Nova Scotia, Canada – 2.8 cm

Gmelinite, Two Islands, Cumberland Co., Nova Scotia, CanadaGmelinite, Two Islands, Cumberland Co., Nova Scotia, Canada – 5.3 cm

Gmelinite, Two Islands, Cumberland Co., Nova Scotia, CanadaGmelinite, Two Islands, Cumberland Co., Nova Scotia, Canada – 4.2 cm

 Analcime, Five Islands, Cumberland Co., Nova Scotia, CanadaAnalcime, Five Islands, Cumberland Co., Nova Scotia, Canada – 5.8 cm

Analcime, Five Islands, Cumberland Co., Nova Scotia, Canada

Analcime, Five Islands, Cumberland Co., Nova Scotia, Canada
Field of view 1.5 cm

Natrolite, Cape Split, Kings Co.,  Nova Scotia, Canada

Natrolite, Cape Split, Kings Co., Nova Scotia, Canada – 5.0 cm

Analcime, Heulandite, Cape Split, Kings Co.,  Nova Scotia, Canada

Analcime, Heulandite, Cape Split, Kings Co., Nova Scotia, Canada – 5.7 cm

Analcime, Heulandite, Cape Split, Kings Co.,  Nova Scotia, Canada

Analcime, Heulandite, Cape Split, Kings Co., Nova Scotia, Canada – 8.3 cm

Natrolite, Heulandite, Cape Split, Kings Co.,  Nova Scotia, Canada

Natrolite, Heulandite, Cape Split, Kings Co., Nova Scotia, Canada
Field of view 4.0 cm

Posted by: Raymond McDougall on 11.29.2015 | Filed under: Adventurers, Latest | Comments (0)


Nova Scotia’s Bay of Fundy has been famous among mineral collectors for a long time. In fact, these coastal cliffs were internationally-known for their zeolites before Canada existed as a country.

(Just a note: this post is really The Bay of Fundy Part I. The next post, Part II, is about collecting the Islands, in the Bay of Fundy, so I hope you’ll find that one fun too – the link is below, under the Links heading near the end of this post.)

Wasson's Bluff Sunrise, Nova ScotiaEarly summer morning at Wasson’s Bluff

Nova Scotia’s Bay of Fundy shoreline occurrences are early classic Canadian mineral localities, and have been producing superb specimens of many mineral species since the mid-19th century. For perspective, this is well ahead of the recovery of mineral specimens from other well-known Canadian localities like the Jeffrey Quarry at Asbestos or Mont St. Hilaire (Quebec), the Bancroft Area or Thunder Bay District (Ontario) or Rapid Creek (Yukon) – in some cases, over 100 years before the minerals of these localities were even discovered.

Specimens from the Bay of Fundy were noted in late 19th century texts and reports in Canada and internationally, and crystals of of gmelinite from Pinnacle Island (albeit as “Pinnack Island”) are included in Victor Goldschmidt’s early 20th century Atlas der Krystallformen.

Today, fine mineral specimens are still periodically recovered along the coasts of the Bay of Fundy, making this area one of the most productive contemporary regions for Canadian fine mineral specimens.

This post focuses on three classic localities: Wasson’s Bulff, Amethyst Cove and Cape D’Or. Part 2, a second post, is about two more classic localities, Two Islands and Five Islands – a link is at the end of this post.


First, just a bit of orientation. As shown to the left of centre on the map below, the Bay of Fundy is a large, elongated bay on the Atlantic Ocean. The area of interest for mineral collectors is at the northeastern area of the Bay of Fundy, including the Minas Basin, in the centre of the map. From Cape D’Or on the north shoreline, to the Morden area on the south shore, the linear length of shoreline to travel to the various mineral occurrences is over 400 km (approximately 250 miles).

Note in particular the tiny hook-shaped feature (the Blomidon Peninsula) poking up in the middle of this map, separating the triangle-shaped Minas Basin from the wider Bay of Fundy.

Bay of Fundy Map 1(Google Earth 2015, Image credits: Landsat, NOAA.)

Zooming in closer, with the “hook” of the Blomidon Peninsula in the centre of the map below, I’ve plotted just a few of the most important Bay of Fundy mineral localities. These are to give a general idea, but in many cases the names of localities on the Bay of Fundy are used to refer to a stretch of shoreline, not one specific plotted point. The town of Parrsboro, right of centre, hosts the Nova Scotia Gem and Mineral Show every August (a long-established show, it has passed its 50th anniversary), and is home to the Fundy Geological Museum.

Bay of Fundy Map 2(Google Earth 2015, Image credits: Landsat, NOAA.)

In this post, I use the term “Bay of Fundy” to include the area that is known as the Minas Basin, east of the Blomidon Peninsula.

Background – World Class Mineral Specimens

From the 1830s on, the Bay of Fundy began to attract attention for its mineral occurrences, particularly the zeolites and associated minerals.

Several minerals occur in world-class specimens from the Bay of Fundy localities: analcime, chabazite and gmelinite are the classics.

Excellent specimens of natrolite and thomsonite are also found. Even certain more common minerals, known in spectacular specimens from other world localities, occur in rather unique specimens from the Bay of Fundy – for example, stilbite colours range into distinctive and beautiful golden yellow and cinnamon brown, while heulandite can be various colours, including brilliant orange. The type locality for mordenite is Morden, on the south shore of the Bay of Fundy.

It should be noted that the Bay of Fundy is also known for agates and pretty amethyst specimens.

About the Bay of Fundy

The coastlines along the Bay of Fundy include many exposures of rock, including cliffs up to about 100m (300 ft) high. The Bay of Fundy mineral localities are typically exposed rock the base of the cliffs themselves, and also some large rock falls where cliff sections have collapsed onto the beaches.

BlomidonSunriseSunrise from camp at the top of the Cape Blomidon cliffs

Unlike many other mineral localities, the Bay of Fundy occurrences are constantly refreshed by strong forces of nature. The Bay of Fundy itself does a lot of the work. The ocean here is particularly powerful, with incredible tides, periodic major Atlantic storms and occasional hurricanes.

The Bay of Fundy has the highest tides in the world: the difference between high and low tide can be about 16 metres (over 50 feet) (!).

FundyTideLong way down to the boats at low tide on the Bay of Fundy

The waves and the pounding action of the tides, compounded by storms, scour the shorelines. Of course they also have the power to pile lots of unwanted rock on top of a good vein and bury it – so one never really knows what to expect at a locality on any given visit! The cliffs themselves are highly susceptible to erosion from heavy rain storms, and particularly from the freeze-thaw cycle in winter. Huge sections of the cliff walls crash down onto the beaches, and sometimes those rockfalls contain excellent mineralized zones.

All this action from the ocean is helpful, but it is also a power to be respected, both on the water and on the shore. From low tide to high tide, 14 cubic kilometres (14 billion tonnes) of water race through the relatively narrow gap between Cape Split and Cape D’Or. It is said that during a rising tide, at mid-tide, the channel by Cape Spilt is filled at a rate of 4 cubic kilometres of water per hour, equal to the combined flow of all of the world’s rivers and streams. This causes turbulent tidal currents and can create treacherous boating conditions.

FundyLighthouseLighthouses have dotted the Bay of Fundy clifftops since historical times.
The ocean looks pretty peaceful from this high up on the cliffs…

It goes without saying that one needs to be very careful when collecting along the Bay of Fundy. (Please read the Please Use Caution section at the end of this post.) Collecting trips are timed exactly with the tides – at some locations, getting caught on the shore against the cliffs in a rising tide would be fatal. In addition, one must be careful about being anywhere near the cliffs, and obviously hard hats are worn in these areas. True, with the rare rockfalls that exceed the size of a car, the hard hat would be about as useful as Wyle E. Coyote’s umbrella, but most of the time what falls is small enough that a hard hat can save you a nasty headache, or save your head from becoming cratered.

Overview – Geology

The geology of the cliffs and surrounding Bay of Fundy formations reveals a complex history, far beyond the scope of this post. The rock formations exposed in this region include Carboniferous, Triassic and Jurassic deposits. Various rock types outcrop in the cliffs, including basalts, sandstones and siltstones. Many of the sedimentary rocks in the Bay of Fundy host important fossil occurrences, notably the early reptile fossils in the outcrops at Joggins, and dinosaur fossils in the sandstones near Parrsboro and Wasson’s Bluff.

WassonGeoCliff section exposing basalt and sandstone at Wasson’s Bluff

Of greatest interest to mineral collectors are the basalt exposures. These relate to many separate lava flows during the late Triassic period (a little over 200 million years ago) and they host cavities and vein structures in which well-crystallized minerals are found. The cavities, known as amygdules, were originally formed as gas bubbles trapped in the lava as it cooled and hardened. Later, water flooded the amygdules and minerals formed. (Among the most commonly seen examples of amygdules from basaltic-host environments are the large amethyst cavities from Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil, and Artigas, Uruguay).

AmygdulesSmall amygdules containing zeolite minerals in fractured basalt at Amethyst Cove.

Within the Bay of Fundy deposits, in addition to the amygdaloidal basalt occurrences there are significant breccia zones, where fluids filled cracks and mineralized veins resulted. Most often, as in the photo below, these are narrow seams with minimal potential for mineral specimens, but some of these veins are of sufficient size and complexity that they include excellent hollow zones and cavities in which crystals formed. Crystal-hosting zones are often very narrow and must be collected with extreme care, while it is very common to see crystals that just didn’t have adequate open space to fully develop. Certain seams have allowed for the development of crystallized copper.


Typical breccia zone seam containing small chabazite crystals on the beach at Wasson’s Bluff

Collecting Minerals Along the Bay of Fundy

At some localities along the Bay of Fundy, collecting is not for the faint of heart (figuratively or literally).

As one might expect, access is over the cliffs, down to the shores. In places, ropes are needed.

AmCoveRopesGrab on and down we go! A small section of the ropes on the trail to Amethyst Cove.

CapD'OrCliffLadderOver the last clifftops and down, at Cape D’Or

Wasson’s Bluff

Of course it’s hard to isolate a single Bay of Fundy locality, but if one had to choose, perhaps the most prolific one through mineral collecting history has been Wasson’s Bluff, which has been collected since the mid-nineteenth century.

WassonSceneryThe view at Wasson’s Bluff (which is along the shore).
This scene is looking toward Two Islands and Five Islands, at nearly high tide.

Wasson’s Bluff is known for superb chabazite crystals, balls of natrolite crystals, analcime crystals and golden-yellow stilbite fans.

It should be noted that Wasson’s Bluff has a protected designation under provincial law. Collecting is only permitted on the beach, and not in the cliffs. (All specimens depicted herein were obtained legally.) It is also important to observe that some of the access requires the crossing of private land and permission must be obtained.

One can access Wasson’s Bluff via different routes. One of them follows a narrow gully carved in the sandstone by runoff waters.

WassonsCowCreekGeorge Thompson and David K. Joyce making their way down to Wasson’s Bluff

WassonsCowCreekDescentDavid Joyce took this photo of me descending the rope through the gap in the cliffs.
(Note the background expanse of the tidal flats at low tide. At high tide, the water is up at the driftwood by the cliffs.)

The name Wasson’s Bluff is used to refer to a fairly long stretch of shoreline cliffs, rather than a single cliff or outcrop.

WassonsBeachA late spring scene at Wasson’s Bluff, tide receding

Some good collecting can be done when cliff sections have come down onto the beach as rock falls. A current one is the “Analcime Fall”, where lustrous glassy analcime crystals can be found.

WassonsAnalcimeFallThe collapsed cliff section at Wasson’s Bluff known as the “Analcime Fall”.  (Two Islands on the horizon).

I use the term “current” for the Analcime Fall because even though it is large, just as with everything else on the Bay of Fundy, the ocean will devour this rock pile.

Other mineralized zones outcrop when the tidal waters have scoured the beach clear, making beach collecting possible. For example, in the zones known to host chabazite crystals, some veins and vugs are exposed in the rocks down on the beach. These openings are often very tight, interconnected cavities with little open space for the crystals to have developed. The intergrown crystals are fragile and the basalt is friable, making these very difficult to collect as fine mineral specimens.

WassonsChabaziteinSituChabazite in this vug had particularly fine deep orange colour and good lustre.
This is in situ on the beach at Wasson’s Bluff and the largest crystal is about 2 cm.

Sadly, the largest crystal in the above photo was cracked, as you can see if you look closely. However, the next photo shows a fine specimen that was successfully collected from the vug above:

Chabazite, Wasson's Bluff, Cumberland Co., Nova Scotia

Chabazite with Heulandite and Calcite, Wasson’s Bluff, Cumberland Co., Nova Scotia – 7.2 cm

After a good day on the beach, there are specimens to haul back.


Returning along the beach at Wasson’s Bluff. David Joyce photo.

Here are some specimens from this classic locality:

Natrolite, Wasson's Bluff, Cumberland Co., Nova Scotia - crystal ball 2 cmNatrolite on Analcime, Wasson’s Bluff, Cumberland Co., Nova Scotia – 2 cm crystal ball

Natrolite on Analcime, Wasson''s Bluff, Cumberland Co., Nova Scotia

Natrolite on Analcime, Wasson’s Bluff, Cumberland Co., Nova Scotia – crystal ball 2 cm

Natrolite, Wasson's Bluff, Cumberland Co., Nova Scotia

Natrolite, Wasson’s Bluff, Cumberland Co., Nova Scotia – 5.7 cm

Natrolite on Analcime, Wasson's Bluff, Cumberland Co., Nova Scotia

Natrolite on Analcime, Wasson’s Bluff, Cumberland Co., Nova Scotia – balls to 1.1 cm

Natrolite with Analcime, Wasson's Bluff, Cumberland Co., Nova Scotia

Natrolite with Analcime, Wasson’s Bluff, Cumberland Co., Nova Scotia
Field of view approximately 5 cm

Chabazite, Heulandite, Wasson''s Bluff, Cumberland Co., Nova Scotia

Chabazite with Heulandite, Wasson’s Bluff, Cumberland Co., Nova Scotia – 3.0 cm

Chabazite Wasson's Bluff Nova Scotia

Twinned Chabazite, Wasson’s Bluff, Cumberland Co., Nova Scotia - crystal 1.1 cm

Chabazite, Wasson's Bluff, Cumberland Co., Nova Scotia

Chabazite (beautifully twinned), Wasson’s Bluff, Cumberland Co., Nova Scotia – 3.0 cm

Chabazite, Wasson's Bluff, Cumberland Co., Nova Scotia Chabazite, Wasson’s Bluff, Cumberland Co., Nova Scotia – 7.7 cm

An interesting note about Wasson’s Bluff chabazite, as we’re strolling through some of the various chabazite colours from the locality… At one time, the dark brick-red crystals (such as in the photo below) were given the mineral name “acadialite”, after Acadia, the name (L’Acadie) of the French colony that was comprised of modern-day Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, and parts of eastern Quebec and Maine. However, when it was ultimately determined that there was no composition distinction between acadialite and chabazite, acadialite was dropped and is now an obsolete name for chabazite. One still sees the name acadialite on old labels once in a while.

Chabazite, Wasson's Bluff, Cumberland Co., Nova Scotia

Chabazite, Wasson’s Bluff, Cumberland Co., Nova Scotia – crystals to 2.0 cm

Stilbite and Chabazite, Wasson's Bluff, Cumberland Co., Nova Scotia

Stilbite with Chabazite, Wasson’s Bluff, Cumberland Co., Nova Scotia
Field of view approximately 4.5 cm

100653(2)Stilbite on Chabazite, Wasson’s Bluff, Cumberland Co., Nova Scotia
Field of view approximately 2.5 cm

Even though the arrival of fall in Canada is a sad signal that we’re almost done collecting until spring, we nonetheless appreciate that the woods above Wasson’s Bluff are beautiful in the fall!

WassonsFallBirch, maple and fir in the woods above Wasson’s Bluff.

Amethyst Cove

Amethyst Cove is one of the well-known localities on the Blomidon Peninsula, between Cape Blomidon and Cape Split. The mineral locality name “Amethyst Cove” is usually used to refer to a significant stretch of the coastline between Cape Blomidon and Cape Split, and not only the cove itself.

Collecting at Amethyst Cove presents a more significant expedition than most other localities on the Bay of Fundy. The hike is a bit involved, with forest sections, rocky beach sections, and of course the ropes. Lots of ropes.

A nice gentle start greets you at the top of the rope section.

TerryAmCove1Terry Collett leading the way

But the fact that the Minas Basin is so far below, visible looking down through the trees…

… means that this is what I think of when I think of Amethyst Cove.

TerryAmCove2Terry Collett down on the next ledge, undoubtedly wondering what’s taking me so long. He flies over terrain like this.

Down at the base of the cliffs, the scenery is stunning.

AmethystCove3The shoreline hike to Amethyst Cove (which is out near the point)

DKJAmethystCoveDavid Joyce exploring the seams at Amethyst Cove

AmethystCove1The cliffs near Amethyst Cove

As the name would suggest, Amethyst Cove has long been known for vugs of amethyst crystals.  Often a mid-purple colour, most frequently the vugs and crystals are relatively small (comparatively speaking, in relation to world localities). They are quite distinctive and attractive, often with pale agate in association. Amethyst Cove and the Blomidon Peninsula host seams of agate of various kinds, and people hike the beach searching for them.  The colours and aspects of these agates vary considerably (and it’s beyond my field of experience in general) – here is a typical one from Big Eddy.


Agate and Quartz, Big Eddy, Blomidon Peninsula, Kings Co., Nova Scotia – 8.8 cm

However, among mineral collectors, the true classics for which Cape Blomidon and Amethyst Cove are best known are the analcime crystals. The finest analcime crystals from here rank among some of the finest from anywhere.

Analcime with Stilbite, Amethyst Cove, Kings Co., Nova Scotia

Analcime with Stilbite, Amethyst Cove, Kings Co., Nova Scotia – 3.3 cm crystal

Analcime with Stilbite, Amethyst Cove, Kings Co., Nova Scotia

Analcime with Stilbite, Amethyst Cove, Kings Co., Nova Scotia – 1.3 cm crystal

Cape Blomidon has also produced excellent specimens of thomsonite (thomsonite-Ca) in mounds and balls of small bladed crystals.

Thomsonite, Cape Blomidon, Kings Co., Nova Scotia

Thomsonite, Cape Blomidon, Kings Co., Nova Scotia
Field of view 1.5 cm

A pocket opened up by David Joyce at Amethyst Cove in 2015 produced a few crystals of apophyllite that are quite large for this species along the Bay of Fundy.


Apophyllite, Amethyst Cove, Kings Co., Nova Scotia – 4.4 cm crystal

One absolutely great thing about ropes and cliffs… is that they make you think long and hard about how much rock you really want to haul out from the site. (You already have your equipment weighing down your pack…)


David Joyce and Terry Collett on the ropes as we start back up


As soon as you get to the top of one section, you have a nice clear view of… the next section. Up, up, up!

Cape D’Or

Back on the north shore of the Bay of Fundy, Cape D’Or is spectacular, both for its cliffs and its minerals. The hike to Cape D’Or is moderate, with ropes to assist, but the route is not as steep or as long as Amethyst Cove. The last stretch down the rock face at the shore can be done by rope down the small waterfall, or by ladder. Down at the shore, the rugged cliffs stretch on in either direction.

CapeD'OrShoreThe cliffs at Cape D’Or

CapD'OrSeaweedLow tide at Cape D’Or

The Cape D’Or cliffs are huge. In the following photo, Terry Collett gives a sense of scale, at the small bottom section of one of the large cliff walls.

CapD'OrTerryScaleTerry Collett examines a zone that has produced mesolite, stilbite and other minerals in the past

Everything at Cape D’Or seems large – the boulders and rocks on the shoreline require a bit of careful navigation if you want to make any progress (and remain upright!)

MeCapeD'OrDavid Joyce took this photo of me for scale

Some of the pocket zones along this shoreline are impressive.

CapD'OrDaveCavityDavid Joyce in a mesolite pocket zone

Earlier in 2015, a large wall section came down from high on the cliff face, and crashed onto the beach – it is full of mineralized cavities and seams. Shown in the photo below, this is an example of a rock fall where neither your hard hat nor Wyle E. Coyote’s umbrella would save you.


George Thompson and David Joyce examining vugs and seams

This fall was informally named the “Apophyllite Fall”, as it yielded large numbers of specimens hosting sharp colourless apophyllite crystals. The rocks in this fall zone also contained significant amounts of mesolite and some associated stilbite. (The mesolite we found exposed at surface was cool to see, but not fine mineral specimen-calibre).

CapD'OrMesoliteMesolite covering a cavity wall – field of view approx 10 cm.

In recent years, Cape D’Or has perhaps best been known for the native copper specimens that have been collected from tight seams in one zone of basalt at the base of the cliffs. Some great crystallized copper specimens have been found.

As a locality note, there is more than one Cape D’Or copper occurrence, and the one that has produced many of the specimens (including the ones that follow) is on the shore near the historic workings of the Colonial Copper Mine. As a result, most labels use “Colonial Copper Mine” to identify that it is from these seams, where the mine workings are.

Copper, Colonial Copper Mine, Cape D'Or, Nova ScotiaCopper, Colonial Copper Mine, Cape D’Or, Nova Scotia – 8.3 cm

The fact that a number of these have been on the market might suggest two thoughts: (1) that they are easy to obtain, or (2) that they will become plentiful. I can personally confirm that the first thought is categorically false (!) and the second one is unlikely to become true. At present, a zone of exposed and fractured material yielding excellent copper specimens has been removed, and although copper can still be found, most of the remaining exposed rock is tight bedrock, with few signs of continuing copper at this time. (Hopefully the ocean will help a bit over time, but this is back from the usual reach of the waves, and even the metal detector isn’t encouraging, for now.)

In any event, I thought you might like me to illustrate my rejection of the “easy to obtain” idea.  The copper occurs in narrow seams of celadonite cutting through the basalt. The basalt is solid stuff – when you are wailing away on it, it’s not something weathered or loose on the surface. You’ve hit solid Canada – hard rock. Meanwhile the copper is delicate, thin, and as if it is filigree. The copper is still very attached to Canada. A challenge, particularly if your goal is to remove the copper with a little bit of nice matrix!

To immerse yourself in the full Canadian-weather Cape D’Or experience in the next couple of photos, add a chilly wind, and note that the water in these photos is due to a cold November rain. (Yes, feel free to cue the Guns N’ Roses if you like, but there was no holding of candles.)

This photo shows nice crystallized copper, edge-on, in solid rock.


Copper in situ at Cape D’Or

Eventually, after a major effort, Terry Collett successfully extracted this section of copper, and here is a specimen:

Copper, Colonial Copper Mine, Cape D'Or, Nova ScotiaCopper, Colonial Copper Mine, Cape D’Or, Nova Scotia – copper 4.8 cm across

One can work around a group of copper crystals, chiselling the hard rock as I did with this one…

CapD'OrCopperSitu2Copper (about 3 cm) still attached to Canada, at Cape D’Or

… but ultimately after about an hour of hard work, the crystal aggregate sadly popped off with no matrix, and it was not as interesting as it looked like it might have been. C’est la vie!

Some nice specimens collected in recent years:

Copper, Cape D’Or, Cumberland Co., Nova ScotiaCopper, Cape D’Or, Cumberland Co., Nova Scotia - 9.1 cm

Copper, Cape D’Or, Cumberland Co., Nova ScotiaCopper, Cape D’Or, Cumberland Co., Nova Scotia - 7.2 cm

Copper, Colonial Copper Mine, Cape D'Or, Nova ScotiaCopper, Colonial Copper Mine, Cape D’Or, Nova Scotia – 7.3 cm

Copper, Colonial Copper Mine, Cape D'Or, Nova Scotia

Copper, Colonial Copper Mine, Cape D’Or, Nova Scotia
Field of view 3.5 cm

Cape D’Or is known for fine specimens of many minerals, including the zeolites and associated species. Finds of particular interest have included thomsonite and some super stilbite epimorphs after mesolite.


Thomsonite-Ca, Cape D’Or, Cumberland Co., Nova Scotia – 6.9 cm

Stilbite epimorph after mesolite, Cape D'Or, Nova ScotiaStilbite epimorph after mesolite, Cape D’Or, Nova Scotia – 7.0 cm

As winter settles in, we all hope that over the coming months with the freeze-thaw cycles and storms, the cliffs at Cape D’Or will drop more nice, big mineralized blocks full of amazing crystal pockets down onto the beach, just in time for the next collecting season. (Who dreams of “sugarplums” for Christmas? I mean really. There are so many better things to dream about. Mmmmm… pockets of gleaming crystals…)

The End of Collecting Season

In most parts of Canada, November heralds the end of collecting season. There’s no need to bother telling this to the hardest-of-hard-core Bay of Fundy collectors because they will  sometimes be out year-round, with equipment to facilitate climbing on the ice and snow (!). However, for Canadian collectors with local mineral localities inland from the coasts, the ground freezes solid, localities fill with solid ice and are buried in snow… we know the signs of late fall mean that it’s time to allow Canadian winter to run its course again.


White pine with early-November blueberry bushes above the Bay of Fundy,
in Cumberland County, Nova Scotia

About the Mineral Specimens in this Post

Many of the mineral specimens in this post are, or have recently been, available for sale on this website. I do my best to source Bay of Fundy minerals regularly, and to ensure that there are excellent specimens available (click here for Bay of Fundy Specimens).

I should note that the specimens photographed in this post (and the ones on the website at the above link) were collected by several people, including those mentioned in the next section, over years of visits to Bay of Fundy localities. While it is certainly possible to personally collect a good specimen during a visit, most of the specimens that come to light are the result of regular year-round visits to the most productive localities by a number of hard-working Nova Scotia mineral collectors. As with all mineral collecting, sometimes these visits produce fine specimens.


Just a quick note to express my thanks to some friends in the Nova Scotia mineral collecting community. To Terry Collett, with his encyclopedic Nova Scotia mineral knowledge and amazing memory – he may know almost every mineralized seam and outcrop along the Bay of Fundy. (It’s a bit scary.) An extraordinary field-collector and our generous friend in the field – thank you!

TerryDescentCapD'OrTerry Collett descending the ropes at Cape D’Or.
(Photographing wildlife – always challenging – is easier than catching Terry in a sharp still photo,
thanks to his enthusiasm and energetic speed when out field collecting.)

Thanks to Ronnie Van Dommelen for hosting us to learn from your amazing collection, and for making so much superb Nova Scotia mineral information available to all of us on your definitive Nova Scotia mineralogy website (please see References below). Thanks to another well-known superb field collector, Doug Wilson, for great time at Wasson’s Bluff (Doug and Jackie run the Amethyst Boutique in Parrsboro) and of course for all of your hospitality.

DougWilsonWassonDoug Wilson at Wasson’s Bluff

Thanks to Dino Nardini (who runs Nova Scotia Agate) for hosting our collection visit.

And thank you very much to Rod and Helen Tyson (Tyson’s Fine Minerals, in Parrsboro) for your warm hospitality.

As always, thanks to Dave Joyce, for all that goes into our adventures. (For the contributed photos too!)



Part 2: Mineral Collecting on the Islands, Bay of Fundy (click here)

Mineral Specimens from Nova Scotia’s Bay of Fundy currently available for sale (click here)


Please Use Caution!

There are serious accidents every year along the Bay of Fundy. Provincial emergency rescue teams are required to respond to evacuate hikers and others, and unfortunately these stories do not always have happy endings. People have lost their lives here. It may look gentle and mild in some of the photographs here (taken on the calmest of days), but absolutely don’t underestimate it – please be careful if you ever visit.

Any arrangements in this area must be made with careful consideration of the tide times and the weather conditions – mistakes in this regard can literally be fatal. Weather conditions on the Bay of Fundy can change incredibly rapidly. One must always have an eye on the time, the tide and the weather: always have a plan for managing a safe exit.

No visit to any Bay of Fundy locality should ever be made alone. Even some of the most careful, experienced Bay of Fundy mineral collectors have required the assistance of one or more additional persons to safely exit a Bay of Fundy mineral locality, either due to injuries or storms.

Many of the trails and access areas are steep and dangerous. The beach cobbles and shore bedrock can be super-slippery, particularly when wet. As between the trails and the shorelines, I think we’ve all fallen somewhere at some point along the way on these excursions.

Use of many of the access trails should not be undertaken without an accompanying guide.

The rocks comprising the cliffs along the Bay of Fundy can be loose and very unstable – some of the rock units are particularly weak. Always wear a hard hat and do not climb the cliffs.

Most of the collecting localities along the Bay of Fundy are unsafe and are certainly not appropriate for children. Beach collecting in a few of the very easy-access beach areas on the Bay of Fundy, away from cliffs, may be fine for children of an appropriate age, provided that it is conducted with continuous adult supervision to ensure, among other things, careful observation of the tides and avoidance of the strong undercurrents that can occur all around the Bay of Fundy.

This post does not constitute advice or recommendation to travel to the localities mentioned, and any decision to do so is each person’s own risk and responsibility. Adherence to applicable law and respect of private property are fundamental, and each of us is individually responsible – for ourselves, families and friends, and to the mineral collecting community as a whole – to be compliant and respectful at all times. If you are crossing or conducting any activity on private property, appropriate permissions must be obtained.


If you would like to read more about Nova Scotia minerals or research Nova Scotia mineral localities (including beyond the Bay of Fundy), I highly recommend Ronnie Van Dommelen’s great website,  The Mineralogy of Nova Scotia

For additional reading, see also Van Dommelen, R. and Collett, T., “An Introduction to Minerals in Nova Scotia and a Report on Recent Collecting” in Rocks and Minerals 81:1 (Jan/Feb 2006), pp. 54-61

Posted by: Raymond McDougall on 11.29.2015 | Filed under: Latest, Recent Mineral Updates | Comments (0)

I’ve added a new Nova Scotia Update (click here), with minerals from the Bay of Fundy. This update accompanies the new post about Nova Scotia Mineral Collecting – The Bay of Fundy, with specimens from the classic Bay of Fundy localities highlighted in that article: Wasson’s Bluff, Amethyst Cove and Cape D’Or.

This is the first of two Bay of Fundy updates. Next week’s update will feature specimens from different localities – the islands (particularly the gmelinite localities) and Cape Split. An article about these localities is also now on the site, Mineral Collecting on the Islands – Bay of Fundy (click here) to give a little sense of what is behind the specimens from the islands.

To see mineral specimens from the Bay of Fundy currently available for sale, click here.


This update features superb analcime crystals and chabazite crystals, beautiful balls and sprays of natrolite crystals, delicate crystallized copper and more.

Analcime with Stilbite, Amethyst Cove, Kings Co., Nova Scotia Analcime with Stilbite, Amethyst Cove, Kings Co., Nova Scotia – 3.3 cm crystal

Analcime with Stilbite, Amethyst Cove, Kings Co., Nova ScotiaAnalcime with Stilbite, Amethyst Cove, Kings Co., Nova Scotia – 1.3 cm crystal

Chabazite, Wasson's Bluff, Cumberland Co., Nova Scotia

Chabazite, Wasson’s Bluff, Cumberland Co., Nova Scotia – 3.0 cm

Chabazite, Wasson's Bluff, Nova Scotia

Chabazite, Wasson’s Bluff, Cumberland Co., Nova Scotia – 2.8 cm

Chabazite, Wasson's Bluff, Cumberland Co., Nova Scotia

Chabazite, Wasson’s Bluff, Cumberland Co., Nova Scotia – 4.1 cm

Analcime, Mackay Head, Cumberland Co. Nova Scotia

Analcime, Mackay Head, Cumberland Co., Nova Scotia – 4.1 cm

Natrolite with Analcime, Wasson's Bluff, Cumberland Co., Nova ScotiaNatrolite with Analcime, Wasson’s Bluff, Cumberland Co., Nova Scotia
Field of view approximately 4.5 cm

Natrolite, Wasson's Bluff, Cumberland Co., Nova Scotia

Natrolite, Wasson’s Bluff, Cumberland Co., Nova Scotia – 5.7 cm

Natrolite on Analcime, Wasson's Bluff, Cumberland Co., Nova Scotia

Natrolite on Analcime, Wasson’s Bluff, Cumberland Co., Nova Scotia
Natrolite crystal balls to approximately 1.1 cm

Natrolite on Analcime, Wasson's Bluff, Cumberland Co., Nova Scotia

Natrolite on Analcime, Wasson’s Bluff, Cumberland Co., Nova Scotia
Field of view approximately cm

Copper, Colonial Copper Mine, Cape D'Or, Nova Scotia

Copper, Colonial Copper Mine, Cape D’Or, Nova Scotia – cm

Copper, Colonial Copper Mine, Cape D'Or, Nova Scotia

Copper, Colonial Copper Mine, Cape D’Or, Nova Scotia
Field of view approximately 3.5 cm

Copper, Colonial Copper Mine, Cape D'Or, Nova Scotia

Copper, Colonial Copper Mine, Cape D’Or, Nova Scotia – 8.3 cm

Thomsonite, Cape Blomidon, Kings Co., Nova Scotia

Thomsonite, Cape Blomidon, Kings Co., Nova Scotia
Field of view approximately 1.5 cm

Stilbite epimorph after mesolite, Cape D'Or, Nova Scotia

Stilbite epimorph after Mesolite, Cape D’Or, Nova Scotia – 7.0 cm

Posted by: Raymond McDougall on 11.25.2014 | Filed under: Adventurers, Bancroft, Ontario, Latest | Comments (0)


Bancroft, Ontario is well known among mineral collectors. For over 100 years, specimens from the “Bancroft Area*” have been added to collections around the world, gracing the display cases of museums and private collectors. Photographs of minerals from the Bancroft Area often feature in 20th century North American mineral literature. However, these days, so many of these minerals are classics and can be super hard to obtain – they are seldom available on the international market. Nonetheless, they can be field collected. Although some localities in the region will never produce again, Bancroft mineral collecting continues each year. Of course, finding amazing specimens usually requires tons of hard work and some good luck (knowledge helps too). We sure don’t always come home with awesome display pieces! But every year new great specimens are found in the Bancroft Area.

And fall is a beautiful time here… I thought you might like some glimpses of fall and recent mineral collecting in the Bancroft Area.

Fall colours

Fall colours, Bancroft Area, Ontario

(* For mineral collectors, the term “Bancroft Area” has been used informally and inconsistently over the years to refer to a broad region that extends in a radius of perhaps 50-100km from the town of Bancroft itself. The “Bancroft Area” has variously been considered to include parts of the Haliburton Highlands, Algonquin Highlands, Hastings Highlands and Madawaska Highlands, and I use it inclusively, as many of us do.)

North and Northwest of Bancroft

The regions to the north and northwest of Bancroft are stunning, but we have not seen too many spectacular mineral finds here in recent years. To the further northwest lies Algonquin Park, which is an amazing place (it’s also huge, at 7,653 sq km). It is not a mineral collecting area, but just to deviate from the minerals for a short moment, if you are a first time visitor to this part of Ontario, a drive through the park (and a stop at the interpretive centre) provides great scenery and a super introduction to the wildlife native to the region.

Fall Blue Jay

Autumn Blue Jay

By fall, the mosquitoes and black flies are no longer an issue. However, part of the reason the bugs are gone is the cold – by fall, it can be pretty chilly in the mornings. On the bright side, the frost can be a nice compliment to the scenery.


Frosty scene near Lake Opeongo, Algonquin Park, Ontario

At times, some of the fall colours can be so bright that they appear almost unnatural. (If only our minerals were equally colourful!)


Lake of Two Rivers, Algonquin Park, Ontario

The intense colours also make for beautiful more intimate scenes.

OxtoungeRiverOxtongue River, near Algonquin Park, Ontario

And there are lots of great wild animals and birds throughout the larger “Bancroft Area” region.


Curious White-Tailed Deer

Ok, ok, now back to the minerals.

North Baptiste Lake Road

In the area north of Bancroft, and not as far as Algonquin Park, one spot that has produced interesting mineral specimens in very recent times is a forested locality known as the North Baptiste Lake Road occurrence (on private land, permission/arrangements are required). My collecting partner David Joyce and I did some scouting at this locality this year for a couple of days. We found many mineralized zones with scapolite crystals, pyroxene (augite/diopside) crystals, and minor titanite crystals, but they were all in tight seams with poor crystal development and did not yield fine specimens. The most intriguing find from this excursion was a cool molybdenite crystal.


Molybdenite, 3.5 cm blocky prismatic crystal from North Baptiste Lake Road, Hastings Highlands, Hastings Co., Ontario. D.K. Joyce collection and photo.

Out of interest, here are two specimens I acquired from the collector who inspired us to go scouting at this locality in the first place. These specimens were collected in 2013.

DiopsideDiopside with Scapolite, North Baptiste Lake Road, Hastings Highlands, Hastings Co., Ontario – 5.1 cm


Titanite (1.8 cm crystal) with Diopside and Scapolite, North Baptiste Lake Road, Hastings Highlands, Hastings Co., Ontario

Certainly an interesting and prospective area. However, time, hard work and knowledge must be supplemented with good luck too… maybe next time we’ll do a little better!

West of Bancroft

To the west of Bancroft, some of the area’s best localities continue to produce fine specimens and others are prospected in hopes of new finds.

Bear Lake*

[*Important Note: As of May 2016, the Bancroft Chamber of Commerce has sold the property on which the Bear Lake Diggings are situated. This property is now privately owned, and all collecting and visiting are absolutely prohibited by the new owners.]

One of the Bancroft Area’s most prolific localities from the 1980s through to 2015 was “Bear Lake”, also referred to as “the Bear Lake Diggings” and “Bear Lake Road”. For much of this time, the locality was operated on a permit basis for collecting by the public by the Bancroft and District Chamber of Commerce.

Bear Lake is a classic “calcite vein-dyke” occurrence that produced specimens of many minerals but it is best known for excellent lustrous brown titanite crystals (formerly named “sphene” – crystals can reach sizes over 20 cm), green to reddish fluorapatite crystals (in some cases Beak Lake fluorapatite has been faceted into beautiful green stones), very fine crystals of biotite, and the world’s finest crystals of ferri-fluoro-katophorite, for which Bear Lake is the type locality. (Note: ferri-fluoro-katophorite is a black amphibole, sometimes locally just called “hornblende”, but confirmed by electron microprobe analysis (Robert Martin and I did at McGill University) to be ferri-fluoro-katophorite. It has in the past been classified as fluor-magnesiokatophorite. (Tempting to offer editorial thoughts on amphibole nomenclature, but I digress… we’re all going to be tempted to revert to the incorrect “hornblende” pretty soon!) Some of the individual euhedral crystals at Bear Lake were huge: fluorapatite to 45 cm, biotite to 60 cm, orthoclase to 30 cm and ferri-fluoro-katophorite crystals to 30 cm. However, the larger they are, usually the prettier they are not (!), and the fine mineral specimens are usually crystals under 10 cm.

I was out to Bear Lake a few times in 2014, but I confess with very limited success. I’ve been collecting at this locality since I was a kid, and have found many great things there over the years, but this year was more about scouting and test trenches – it did not yield much in the way of fine specimens. It was fun though!

Bear Lake 1

David Joyce as we commence digging on a vein-dyke with promising ferri-fluoro-katophorite crystals at surface. Photo of final trench is near the end of this post.

After two days of major digging (by hand), we had exposed walls of sharp ferri-fluoro-katophorite crystals up to about 10 cm. Unfortunately, even down to depths of about 2 metres from surface, the crystals were either frost-fractured or otherwise weathered/damaged, and so although it was a cool crystal cavity to see, it did not yield fine specimens.

Bear Lake 2

Ferri-fluoro-katophorite crystals to 10 cm exposed on calcite vein-dyke wall after two days of excavation.


Herwig Pelckmans, about to start in on a Bear Lake vein dyke. This one ultimately produced a nice large cabinet specimen of sharply terminated biotite crystals.

Bear Lake was a fine example of a place where Mother Nature reclaims the forest incredibly quickly. Even though collectors had been digging trenches here since the 1960s, the forest is quite beautiful and the old workings are sometimes truly no longer apparent.

Of course, this meant that we had to be careful not to fall into any holes that had become obscured from view. But it also meant that there is one thing that all experienced Bear Lake collectors would dread. Nope, not the black bears that roam these woods. We would fear that after hours excavating a vein-dyke, we would find incontrovertible evidence that someone already excavated it years ago (and Mother Nature had reclaimed it just enough to mask that fact… and make look like a good fresh spot to dig…).

BearLake5Early-1980s Canadian 280 ml Coca-Cola can. Excavated in 2014.

I don’t want to leave Bear Lake without doing it at least a tiny bit of justice – even if this was a low year, this locality has produced some great specimens in the past – here is a glimpse of examples of Bear Lake minerals from prior years.


Biotite (doubly terminated, floater), Bear Lake, Highlands East, Haliburton Co., Ontario – 5.8 cm


Titanite, Orthoclase and frosty little tracks of Anatase, Bear Lake, Highlands East, Haliburton Co., Ontario – 5 cm

KatophoriteFerri-Fluoro-Katophorite, Bear Lake, Highlands East, Haliburton County, Ontario – 6.8 cm

Desmont Mine Property

Not too far from Bear Lake, another locality is generating interest – this is the Desmont Mine property, near the town of Wilberforce. Originally explored for uranium mineralization in 1954-55, this property includes more than one area of test workings which expose interesting minerals for the collector. We had a great day for an outing – I was there with local collector and Canadian mineral photographer Michael Bainbridge, Bancroft collector and geologist Chris Fouts and collector Herwig Pelckmans, as we scouted various zones of the property.


Small adit at the Desmont Mine property (me for scale). H. Pelckmans photo.


Herwig Pelckmans and Michael Bainbridge at the Desmont Mine property

At the Desmont, there are many unusual minerals and although many do not form euhedral crystals, there are some: particularly intriguing diopside crystals (including chromian diopside), sharp molybdenite crystals (apparently crystals to several cm in diameter) and most of all the locality is known for small maroon stillwellite crystals (up to approximately 0.5 cm known so far). Granted, the stillwellites are not easy to find, but they are cool for the mineral.


Stillwellite, Desmont Mine Property, Highlands East, Haliburton Co., Ontario – 0.3 cm crystal (Note hexagonal pinacoid face)

Well-known Canadian mineral photographer and collector Michael Bainbridge has had some good recent trips to the Desmont Mine, having found stillwellite crystals up to 1 cm, larger than previously reported for the property.

Stillwellite A

Stillwellite (0.6 cm crystal) with Diopside in Calcite, Desmont Mine Property, Highlands East, Haliburton Co., Ontario. M. Bainbridge specimen and photo.

I had an additional interesting find at the Desmont this year – a beautiful, sharp, complete euhedral crystal of albite, variety peristerite, with as bright a schiller as I have ever seen in an Ontario peristerite. It’s small, but sweet!


Albite, variety Peristerite, Desmont Mine Property, Highlands East, Haliburton Co., Ontario – 1.5 cm crystal

The Desmont Mine locality is open to the public on a permit collecting basis – permits are obtained at the offices of the Highlands East municipality in Wilberforce. This municipality is very progressive and actively working to help mineral collectors access and open more localities in the Wiberforce area, so stay tuned! (The municipality also now administers permit-collecting access to the recently re-opened Schickler fluorite occurrence, where reddish and greenish fluorapatite crystals occur in calcite associated with deep purple granular fluorite.) Seems like the Wilberforce area will be a good one to visit over the coming years.

Northeast of Bancroft


Elk, near Hartsmere, Ontario

Miller Property

One of the most famous classic Canadian localities is often referred to in the literature or on old mineral labels simply as “Lake Clear, Renfrew Co.” The Lake Clear area, northeast of Bancroft, is actually not a single locality, but rather it includes several famous old mineral localities, including Turner’s Island, the Smart Mine, the Meany Mine, and the “Lost Mine”. (Lake Clear is approximately 100km northeast of the town of Bancroft – not so close – and is often considered by mineral collectors to be part of the “Bancroft Area”. In part, this is because of the geological and mineralogical similarities with other Bancroft Area localities, all part of the Grenville Geological Province). In recent years, in the forests east of Lake Clear, the Miller Property – in the immediate vicinity of the Smart Mine and which in fact encompasses the deposit formerly known as the “Lost Mine” – has produced some truly excellent specimens. This is another calcite vein-dyke locality, and this one is particularly known for the classic large red-brown fluorapatite crystals and excellent titanite crystals. Large augite crystals, orthoclase-microcline crystals and biotite crystals have also been found. Very rarely in the past this property also produced nice zircon crystals.

This year the Miller Property was the destination for a well-attended club field trip by the Walker Mineralogical Club and the Kawartha Mineral Club. A small group of us opened up a good vein dyke containing a large number of fluorapatite crystals.


Prominent Canadian collector Bob Beckett moved a lot of ground as we worked together at the fluorapatite trench. He did a good job hiding his disappointment we weren’t finding more biotite crystals.

Lake Clear4

As is often the case, we got very dirty excavating the fluorapatite crystals. This vein-dyke was narrow and tough to collect. R. Beckett photo.

The large complete crystal from this trench is now in the collection of Herwig Pelckmans. He parked his car beside the crystal for scale before taking this photograph.


Fluorapatite, Miller Property, Sebastopol Township, Renfrew Co., Ontario.

H. Pelckmans specimen, photo and car.

Lake Clear 2Partially excavated calcite vein dyke containing fluorapatite crystals. The large crystal here is the same one in the photo above, now in Herwig’s collection. It is 25.5 cm long. Note the crystals on the hanging wall. Most were attached and could not be collected (they shatter).

Many of the crystals in this trench were not so sharp and lots were frost-damaged, but there were some nice ones too. This one is quite typical for Lake Clear fluorapatite, if perhaps a little more pinkish than usual:


Fluorapatite, Miller Property, Sebastopol Twp., Renfrew Co., Ontario – 6.3 cm

Keith Miller, this property’s owner, is as generous and gracious about mineral collecting as I have ever seen – for club trips, he has opened the property up, including with heavy equipment, and the fees he collects per person are then donated to a local children’s hospital. Please note that one must absolutely not go to this locality (any locality, for that matter) without proper arrangements. This may include the specifically organized field trips that are set up by mineral clubs from time to time. It would be tragic should anyone undermine the goodwill and kindness between the collecting community and this remarkable property owner. How rare it is in this day and age that we (collectors) are fortunate enough to be accommodated, with specimens from a classic locality being preserved like this!

Lake Clear1

Excavator at the Miller Property, Sebastopol Township, Renfrew Co., Ontario.

One particularly interesting note from the club trip at the Miller Property this year – in the same area where the calcite vein-dykes occur, a pegmatite was excavated. The pegmatite included a few euhedral microcline var. amazonite crystals up to over 10 cm. Given the nature of the hard-rock occurrence, I am not sure how many of these were successfully removed intact but some certainly were. This is very unusual – I believe these would be considered the best amazonite crystals ever found in the Bancroft Area. We’ll have to keep our ears open to learn what other collectors managed to find in the pegmatite excavation during the field trip.


Microcline var. Amazonite in situ, with Canadian “Toonie” coin (2.8 cm diameter) for scale. Miller Property, Sebastopol Township, Renfrew Co., Ontario. R. Beckett photo.

Here are a couple of specimens found at the Miller Property in recent years:


Fluorapatite, Miller Property, Sebastopol Twp., Renfrew Co., Ontario – 8.0 cm


Titanite with Fluorapatite, Miller Property, Sebastopol Township, Renfrew Co., Ontario – 5.1 cm

Bancroft Mineral Collecting, 2014

Although awesome mineral specimens continue to come from many different mineral localities in the Bancroft Area, my own 2014 experiences produced only a very few interesting specimens. The large fluorapatite we found at the Miller Property is a remarkable specimen and a true classic, and there were certainly other cool pieces here and there this year. And yet, quite often, all that hard work and knowledge still leaves you at the bottom of a big freshly-dug hole without anything brilliant for the display cabinet.


At the bottom of a two-day hole at Bear Lake, dug together with David Joyce. No collection-worthy specimens from this effort. And no help from an excavator. Emery (at upper left) supervised.
D.K. Joyce photo.

So, this was not a year full of endless spectacular specimens, and I appreciate what we did manage to find. In any event, my excursions this year could not have been better for scenery, wildlife and good times with good friends.

It’s always worth going out in the woods, and you never know what lies around the next corner.


White-Tailed Deer – Doe and Fawn


Ice Crystals on Wild Strawberry Leaf


Chipmunk, Collecting Food for the Winter


White-Tailed Deer – Fawn


Bay Lake, Faraday Township


Thank you to Keith Miller, for graciously making the Miller Property accessible to the mineral collecting community, and also to the folks at Highlands East, who are working hard to bring more properties in the Wilberforce area online for collectors. And thanks to the Bancroft and District Chamber of Commerce for all that is done to keep Bear Lake open and accessible to all. I am grateful to Joe Neuhold for all that he does for the elk and the deer in the Hartsmere area. Thanks to Michael Bainbridge and Bob Beckett for the great photos, and thanks to both of you and Herwig Pelckmans for great times out in the woods this year. Huge thanks to my long-time collecting partner David Joyce, for all the fun and collaboration on our many collecting adventures (also the moly photo).

About the Minerals Photographed in this Post

Except as otherwise attributed, the minerals photographed in this post are included here because I love sharing them, not for sale. (Some of the ones that I personally collected are my children…)

About the Website

If you have landed on this post without having explored our website, please have fun looking around – there are tons of photographs of minerals from all over the world that are available for purchase (you can surf through by using the “Browse” options (click here , and you’ll see the Browse options at left). Other blog articles are under the tabs Adventurers and What’s New Blog (you may wish to scroll a bit to explore within the What’s New Blog, as all of the weekly specimen updates are under this tab too).

If you are interested in more information relating specifically to Bancroft, Ontario and minerals, have a look – there is a post about the Bancroft Mineral Museum (the Bancroft Gem and Mineral Club Museum) and also one about our annual Bancroft Mineral Shows. A brief more general introduction to Bancroft is under About Bancroft.

Posted by: Raymond McDougall on 05.09.2014 | Filed under: Latest, Mineral Shows | Comments (0)

After a long, harsh northern winter, most people in this part of the world look to the arrival of the red-winged blackbirds and robins, buds and flowers to mark the arrival of spring. But let’s be honest, spring only truly arrives with “Rochester” (the annual Rochester Mineralogical Symposium). For fun, sense of community, contribution and cameraderie – and for the excellence of the presentations and displays – this is by far one of the best mineral events of the year, anywhere.  (And speaking of contribution, please note that the speakers were all generous in sharing their photographs for this post – thank you all!)  Organized by Steve and Helen Chamberlain, along with a team of dedicated volunteers, it is not to be missed.

Just a word about it, if you’ve never been: Come!

Rochester is a symposium meant for people who love minerals. It is not purely academic or technical – it is rich in substantive content, with cutting edge discoveries and research in specimen mineralogy, yet accessible to people at all levels of expertise.  The overall content is a super mix of mineralogy, photography, historical content, research, collecting information and glimpses of amazing places and people around the world.

The symposium (April 24-27) was incredibly high calibre, with excellent presentations by speakers from many different countries.  In case you were not there – or even if you were – I hope you will enjoy reading about it and looking at a few of the photos. All of the speakers have kindly contributed photographs from their talks.


Michael Bainbridge’s “Grenville Grunge? Dispelling the Myth!” launched the symposium but lived on through the weekend. “Grenville Grunge” refers to the fact that some minerals found in the Grenville Geological Province, including parts of Ontario, Quebec and New York, can be dull, dark, and lacking sharpness, lustre or colour. It is a disparaging name coined by someone hopelessly misguided and misinformed. But I digress.

You may know Michael is an excellent mineral photographer, and so his presentation photos helped put an aesthetic face on Grenville Province minerals. However, the catchy alliteration “Grenville Grunge” seems to know no bounds. In a baffling development, it was repeated derisively by people around the symposium all weekend, and so the phrase lives on. It might even inadvertently have been granted a bit of new life… but don’t go propagating it. You can easily find shapeless lumps of mineralogical ugliness at awesome localities the world over. (It’s truly a ridiculous moniker – I will make it a mission of this website over time to help you see whether you agree. Because in fact, the sophistication, complexity and cool subtleties of Grenville minerals can be downright addictive.)


Tremolite, near Minden, Ontario – 12 cm.  Michael Bainbridge specimen and photo.
Michael collected this specimen in 2010.

John Jaszczak gave a fantastic presentation “Mineralogical Miracles at Merelani”, about some of the interesting mineral finds at Merelani, Tanzania beyond tanzanite and tsavorite. John spoke about the amazing crystals of graphite and diopside, and also about the recent finds of killer alabandite and wurtzite crystals. A Mineralogical Record article about the latter is in the works – can’t wait for it.


Diopside with graphite from Merelani, Tanzania.  Larger crystal 1.8 cm.  A.E. Seaman Museum specimen, John Jaszczak photo.

A super talk about one of the world’s most classic localities, the famous Herodsfoot Mine, was presented by Roy Starkey (“Herodsfoot Mine, Richard Talling and Bournonite”). Meticulously researched, with excellent mix of historical background and great minerals, and supported with lots of great photographs.


Herodsfoot, postcard from ca 1900.  Mining buildings and tailings at centre and left. Roy Starkey photo.


 Bournonite on Quartz from the Herodsfoot Mine, 9 x 7 x 3 cm (crystals to 4 x 1 cm).
Photo by Roy Starkey – Image copyright British Geological Survey.

One of my favourite subjects of the symposium was the Sulfur Mines of Sicily, featured in the Friday night presentation by Dr. Renato Pagano.

I have a confession here (mineral connoisseurs might say a huge confession). And I guess it’s a bit embarrassing, since I swear I really thought I had read Dr. Pagano’s (and other authors’) writings on this. But somehow it was only now that I finally have come to understand that Sicilian sulfur deposits are not volcanic deposits – it’s just so natural to assume that the famous active volcanoes on Sicily gave rise to and host the famous sulfur deposits, but this is not the case. Sulfur in Sicily occurs in a sequence of Miocene evaporitic formations including limestone and gypsum.

Anyway, now that my admission is out of the way…

Dr. Pagano included wonderful photographs and shared some amazing specimens with us – he provided a couple of my favourites for this post. The following are two specimens from the Pagano collection, photographed by Roberto Appiani.


Slide4And I love the photos from some time ago now, when Dr. Pagano was making early trips to the region to obtain sulfur specimens – and then stacking them on the back of his bike.


One of the best things about Rochester is that every year we end up in so many different mineral places, near and far. Over the years, Dr. Peter Lyckberg has made many visits to the Chamber Pegmatites of Volodarsk, Ukraine, and gave just an amazing talk on this – really, this presentation was so good you felt like you were right there, underground, collecting beryl and topaz. The mining of the chamber pegmatites has an interesting history, including massive state-sponsored investment during the Soviet era, without which, none of this could have been possible. However, it is a story that may be at an end, as the last mining has stopped as of January, 2013.  Peter clearly sensed that the chances to visit Volodarsk could be time-limited, and we’re so lucky he did!

HeliodorpocketCollecting in beryl pocket at Volodarsk, Ukraine, October 2007.  Photo by Peter Lyckberg.


 “Peter’s Dream Pocket” with giant topaz and  zinnwaldite. Pegmatite 569, Shaft 3, Volodarsk, Ukraine. Photo by Peter Lyckberg January 2013.


Peter Lyckberg with 29 kg topaz and smoky quartz from pegmatite tube near pegmatite 569 at 96 m level,
Shaft 3, Volodarsk, Ukraine. Photo by Alexander Chournousenko.


Peter at the symposium with a topaz and a heliodor.


Peter brought this beautiful topaz to show us at the Symposium – I’m guessing almost 15 cm across.
(The “matrix” in this photo is the dry-cleaning plastic we all use for packing specimens.)

Mark Jacobson took us to Mount Antero, Colorado, the classic Western American aquamarine locality. To me, the approach taken in presenting this really made it – the talk highlighted many of the collectors themselves, and their finds over the years. This was a great approach and a very engaging talk. The presentation included lots of photos of specimens of the “big three” from Mt. Antero – beryl (variety aquamarine), phenakite and bertrandite.


Beryl, var. aquamarine from Mt. Antero – 16.8cm. Collected by Steve Brancato,
this specimen is in the Bruce Oreck collection. Mark Jacobson photograph.


Bertrandite from Mt. Antero – 1 cm. Mark Jacobson photograph.
Collected by Jeff Self, this specimen is in his collection.


Phenakite from Mt. Antero. The largest crystal is 3.1 cm. Originally collected by Curtis Abbott and
Cliff Robertson, this specimen is in the Dave Bunk collection. Mark Jacobson photograph.

Ted Johnson spoke on the pegmatite occurrence at Branchville, Connecticut. This is a locality for some very unusual minerals and interesting mineralogy/genesis. Unfortunately the locality is closed to collecting – a house is very nearby, and a road runs very close to the water-filled pit. However, analytical work by dedicated amateurs continues, and this is a great example of such contributions being made to specimen mineralogy.

The old quarry at Branchville, Connecticut. Ted Johnson photograph.


Eucryptite, photographed in UV light, 7.5 x 5 cm. Ted Johnson specimen and photograph.


Eucryptite, with remnant spodumene core, photographed in UV light, 15.2  x 12.7 cm. Ted Johnson specimen and photograph.

Often, we are lucky enough to have key speakers give us a reprise on a separate subject to close out the symposium on Sunday morning.

Roy Starkey presented on the Cairngorm mountain range in Scotland. If you have read any older field guide, monograph or text, you have likely seen that the Cairngorms are a classic locality for smoky quartz crystals – so much so that they were sometimes themselves called cairngorms.  There was lots of great information in this talk – I had no idea that excellent topaz has also been found in the Cairngorms.  I also had no clue that Queen Victoria had done any field collecting for minerals…


Cairn Toul, Angel’s Peak and Braeriach from flanks of Ben Macdui, Scotland. Roy Starkey photograph.


Smoky quartz and citrine from the Cairngorms, Scotland. Royal Scottish Museum. Roy Starkey photograph.

Dr. Peter Lyckberg gave us our grande finale, with “Highlights of 50 Years of Mineral Collecting”. The personal nature of this talk really resonated with me. He began his fascination and collecting of minerals when he was very young, and he has pursued it passionately ever since – many of us could truly relate. With a whirlwind tour, we visited localities worldwide, and had a chance to see some truly spectacular mineral specimens that have become part of his great personal collection – often after some rather dedicated pursuit!


 Peter Lyckberg was the first western visitor since 1917 in the Alabashka Pegmatite Field, Mursinka,Urals, Russia.
In this photograph, he is with Pocket 4 at 30 m depth, Kazionnitsa Pegmatite January 1993.


Mining a gem pocket next to pocket 201 at 30 m depth in the Kazionnitsa Mine, Alabashka Pegmatite Field,
Mursinka, Urals, Russia, January 1993. Photo by A Kasyanov.


 Beryl, var heliodor and aquamarine – the largest heliodor is 12 cm tall. Peter Lyckberg collection and photograph.

Technical Session

Every year, Friday afternoon of the symposium is reserved for the technical session. This session is  always packed with tons of information – each presenter is limited to 15 minutes. Abstracts from these talks are included in the symposium program, and are also published during the year in Rocks and Minerals magazine.

Annual Features

The symposium includes some consistent high-level features every year.

Saturday morning always features Jeff Scovil presenting What’s New in Minerals and Localities. Jeff’s world-leading mineral photography dazzles us all for an hour, as he covers finds from around the globe that were uncovered in the prior year or so. Some of these are photographs that we see in the Mineralogical Record, Rocks and Minerals, and other publications during the year and other photographs may make their debut at Rochester – and when they are all together in one show, it’s a bit mind boggling.  I’ve never once seen Jeff do What’s New without having the audience draw breath collectively over some of the specimens.  (People might even pass out over the experience – I mean it’s always dark during the slideshow, so how would we know – although miraculously no-one is on the floor at the end.)

Following Jeff, “What’s New in Minerals and Localities II” is the chance for short contributions from other symposium registrants – we never have any idea what will come out during this hour, but always new, and one of the neatest sessions of the Symposium, where we can share with each other.

Frank Melanson spoke about the new Bancroft Gem and Mineral Club Museum – I will post a separate piece on the blog about this one, coming soon, so stay tuned.

I presented briefly on some recent new mineral finds, including the amazing magnesiofoititite tourmaline crystals from Tsitondroina, Fianarantsoa, Madagascar.

CoverMagnesiofoitite, Tsitondroina, Fianarantsoa, Madagascar – 5.8 cm.

 I also presented on a remarkable Canadian find. One of Canada’s top field collectors, Mike Irwin, has discovered and collected some very fine specimens of the rare mineral serendibite from near Portage du Fort, Pontiac Co., Quebec.  Many of the specimens include some level of overgrowth and/or replacement growth by a combination of dravite-uvite and spinel. In some of the material, the serendibite is a nice blue, mottled in a lighter host rock which includes very pale diopside. The blue is an understated, blue-jean blue (suits us Canadians) rather than an outspoken copper oxide zone blue. So far, extremely few euhedral crystals have been recovered – vugs are rare at the locality.


Sharp serendibite crystals, up to 0.5 cm, with pale diopside – near Portage-du-Fort, Pontiac Co., Quebec.

R. Peter Richards has presented many fascinating topics to us at Rochester over the years. This one was to follow up on a remarkable find.  There is a locality along the Huron River, near Milan, Ohio, discovered thanks to smoke rising up out of a crevice. The smoke, from a natural shale fire underground, deposited micro-crystals, which at the time of the original presentation had not yet been identified. Subsequent work has now confirmed that these are sabieite-2H and -3R, intimately mixed in single crystals.  They are new polytypes of sabieite 1-T.  Unfortunately the material was incredibly limited and no specimens are available.


Sabieite -2H and -3R crystal, 0.5 mm, Huron River, near Milan, Ohio. R. Peter Richards specimen and photograph.

Finally, Gloria Staebler (of Lithographie LLC) spoke about what I think is a great development for the hobby: Lithographie is going to be publishing a new edition of the classic, Mineralogy for Amateurs by John Sinkankas, originally published in 1964.  (If you’ve read my Favourite Mineral Reads post, you’ll know this is one of my favourite mineral books of all time.) The new edition is undergoing significant work, in order to update the information, although it is fundamental to the project that the voice, tone and approach remain true to the Sinkankas original.  The new edition will be published as a two-volume set, with major revisions to update the mineral descriptions.  Gloria has many people involved, and is keen to involve more.  For example, she is planning to have given minerals updated by a single experienced individual (one person will do hematite, another will do pyrite and so on).  There is lots to be done, and if you would like to contribute to the revision of this classic, please contact Gloria and let her know of your interest at .


As always, there were some great displays this year, both from museums and private collections.


Super display of Nova Scotia Minerals by Canadian collector George Thompson.


 John Betts had a great display of U.S. minerals, including this great smoky quartz (ca 12 cm) he collected in 1992.


Excellent display of pseudomorphs (specifically, these are perimorphs, which are formed when one mineral is encrusted by a second mineral, and the second mineral (crust) still remains while the original mineral has dissolved, leaving a hollow interior). Cincinnati Museum Centre display of specimens on loan from the Terry Huizing Collection.


Remarkable brucite specimen, ca. 15 cm across, from Texas, Lancaster Co., Pennsylvania.  Formerly in the  famous William Jeffris Collection, then acquired by Andrew Carnegie in 1904.  Now in the A.E. Seaman Mineral Museum collection.


Wonderful copper specimen in the collection of David K. Joyce – about 7 cm tall – it stands up straight like this and has been referred to as the “Copper Man”.

Dealers’ Rooms

As great as the presentations, program and displays are, a lot of what Rochester is about happens up on the famous fourth floor, where the dealers’ rooms are full of life well into the morning hours.


David K. Joyce plays and sings his mineral and mining songs every year at Rochester – it’s always a highlight, hanging out with friends and singing along.
(In this photo Dave is between songs, while Canadian dealer and collector Jonathan Zvonko looks on.)

If you have not yet heard Dave’s tunes, they are available on CD and downloadable from iTunes – and you can check them out here.

In another fun fourth floor moment, to the amusement and laughter of all in the room, John Betts made a presentation to me, welcoming me as a new internet mineral dealer. He presented me with an Internet Mineral Dealer’s Kit, to help me on my way.  Some of the contents of that kit simply can’t be discussed here. Suffice it to say that it included screws, mineral oil, Preparation H, a candle, a guide to ordering beer in 26 different languages… and other helpful items. The egg timer in the kit is meant to speed up my photography (a particularly good laugh).  And John feels strongly that I am not writing enough in bold all-caps (particularly the word RARE), and I’m using far too few exclamation marks.


John Betts presenting me with a printed sheet full of exclamation marks and multiple examples of the word “RARE!!!” to give me an idea
of what a mineral dealing website should really look like. David K. Joyce photo.

John has been one of the leading online mineral dealers since the beginning of the internet age – if you have not been to his website, it is truly one of the best. I mean BEST EVER!!! and MOST COMPREHENSIVELY AWESOME!!!!  SUPER RARE!!!

Rochester is all about good times with good friends in mineral world.

Until Next Year…

It is true for most Rochester fans – once you have been, you really do your best to never miss another one.  So if you haven’t been, come and experience one of the best events of the mineral year with those of us who wouldn’t miss it (April 23-April 26, 2015). And of course to all the Rochester friends who are there each year, thanks for the great time together and see you there next year.


Posted by: Raymond McDougall on 12.12.2013 | Filed under: Beginners | Comments (0)


Mexican AmethystIf you could choose anything in the world, imagine for a moment what would you want out of your ideal hobby, pursuit or passion?

Maybe it would include relaxing quiet time and comfort. It could be something that is individualistic, and allows you to be a little different from others, and it might also be something you could share with others who enjoy it too, developing interesting friendships and connections along the way. Perhaps it would involve some history and art. It could involve adventure, time outdoors and greater connection to nature. And is it maybe something you would want to involve learning and personal growth? Ultimately would it be something that could enable you to contribute to the happiness of others?

Slightly intense start I’ve set off on here, I know, but hang in there with me for just a little. Because now I have two final questions for you. What if mineral collecting could give you all of these things? And what if you could choose which ones are most important to you, and create the perfect hobby, pursuit or lifelong passion with as many or few of these factors, all scaled in exactly the proportion you design?

Ok, so if you’ve never thought much about mineral collecting before, you may be thinking I’m crazy. (Maybe I am, but in a good way.) To me, it would be much worse if you are concerned I’m trying to sell you something. I’m not at all. Not everyone is going to find minerals interesting. If you don’t think mineral collecting is for you, but you do spend some more thought and discover what is for you instead, that’s awesome – I’d love to know that you manage to find whatever pursuit it is in the world that gives you these kinds of things.

Many people are never lucky enough to find it. On the other hand, if you are still with me and now simply curious as to how the heck I’m going to substantiate the suggestion that mineral collecting can be all of these things for you… well, it is all of these things for me, so here we go:

Growth and Learning

Mineral collecting offers endless learning for those who are curious and love to learn and grow. Nobody can ever learn it all and nobody can never collect them all, so the challenge is wide open. You can sure do well to meet whatever challenge you set for yourself, and most important, the journey is great. About learning, a lot of this is possible even from the comfort of your own home. We live in a Golden Age of mineral publishing, with many excellent books and periodical publications written for people of all levels of background. There is always a small stack of things I am dying to find time to read by the fire. Some of my favourites are listed under Favourite Mineral Reads. In addition, the internet is an incredible source of resources for learning (you might like to look at Favourite Mineral Websites). And of course there are lots of many other amazing ways to learn (please see Seven Easy Things You Can Do to Start Mineral Collecting). With all that is available in this era in which we are living, you can come from any background and develop lots of knowledge about minerals, and even ultimately develop real expertise in one or more areas.

Connection with Others

Mineral collecting involves the chance to develop friends and connections around the world. Together with the opportunity to meet people at mineral shows attended by people from all over the world, the internet has of course enabled community and friendship across all borders. Mineral clubs are active all over the world, so you may well have a local club you can join, to meet local collectors. Even more than this, mineral collecting may lead you to friends with whom you go field collecting, and friends with whom you travel the world in search of the next adventure (and maybe the next pieces for your collection).

Individuality and Personal Achievement

Even though mineral collecting is something most of us enjoy sharing with others to some degree, on the other hand, it is also a personal, individualistic pursuit. Within mineral collecting circles, and just more generally among family and friends, every mineral collection and collector’s focus is purely personal and will stand out as unique. And of course, the development of all knowledge and of any mineral collection you’ve challenged yourself to build, at any level at all, is a source of a deep feeling of personal accomplishment and achievement.

No Two Are the Same

Just to highlight how broadly this concept of individuality applies to mineral collecting, no two of anything are the same. At all. You can have two specimens of the same mineral, they will not be the same – in fact they may even be so radically different from each other as to be incomparable. You can have two single crystals of the same mineral, from the same locality, even from the same pocket, and they will not be the same. Like snowflakes. (Of course snowflakes crystals of ice, which itself is a mineral…). And among collectors, no two are the same. Everyone has a different taste, different collecting focus, different sense of aesthetics, and can place more or less emphasis on any single characteristic of a mineral specimen. If you were to send me, together with my collecting partner David Joyce, into a room full of excellent mineral specimens, and you told us we could only choose one, we would each choose a different one almost every time.

Always Something New

Every day, somewhere in the world, new mineral specimens are discovered. Sometimes these discoveries come as the result of exploration, development or commercial production in the mining industry. Often, discoveries are made by people collecting mineral specimens. Discoveries are sometimes made very close to home, and other times somewhere far away. No matter where they arise, there are new things found all the time – these finds emerge both on the internet and at mineral shows. It’s one of the best things about the world of minerals – it is always changing and no two days are the same.

New discoveries can be anything – they may be finds of a new occurrence of beautiful or interesting mineral specimens, which may be different from any find before, and in fact a new discovery may be a new mineral, never before found or described in science. And it’s not that hard to keep up, really – simply keeping an eye on this website and the sites of a few other good mineral dealers, reading on and reading the “what’s new” updates in the Mineralogical Record (and the ones on its website too) will keep you up to speed.

Connection with Nature

Mineral collecting involves a strong connection with nature, both through the minerals themselves, and also through any travelling into the wild to collect them oneself.  Spending time admiring the natural perfection and beauty of minerals in your collection is a wonderful experience. Many specimens are so amazing it’s hard to believe they are real. If you take a moment to lose yourself in any of them, you’ll see what I mean. It is inspiring and can be pretty humbling. I hope some of this comes through in the photographs on this site, but if you are like me, you are likely to feel it even more with the more contact you have with specimens in person, whether at shows, in museums, or in your own collection.


Mineral collecting can involve as much adventure as an individual can ask for, or can be a hobby that is a relaxing and fulfilling from the comfort of one’s own home. If you’re looking for adventure, you can let mineral collecting take you anywhere in the world – mountains, deserts, forests, jungles, ocean and lake shorelines, river valleys, caves, old and new mines – you name it, and as close or as far away as you choose. Group trips arise through clubs and other organizations, and there are intrepid individuals who lead privately guided adventures. Of course, it’s not possible to go everywhere we might like, but once again publications and internet sites like this one make it possible to share in some of the adventures you haven’t yet been on yourself.


Ultimately, for those who become truly passionate about minerals, there are many ways to contribute, including teaching young people and beginners, making presentations to clubs and symposia, and volunteering to advance the hobby and the science of mineralogy.


If you’re still reading, maybe you’d like to explore a bit more? If so, have a look around our site and see what catches your interest. I’ve organized the content on this site with a view to making it easy to start at the Beginners page and then move on to the Collectors page. You don’t have to buy anything on our website. In fact, I want to add that you can begin a love for minerals with little or no money. It’s all up to you.

Internet sites like this one, libraries, public museums, local mineral clubs and local mineral shows are all inexpensive windows and avenues into the world of minerals. I started as a kid and for a long time (maybe 15 years or so) – I enjoyed minerals without spending much money at all. You get to make the decisions about how you want to engage in the world of minerals and what kind of collection you wish to build (hopefully some of the articles under Collectors will be helpful in this regard). I hope you can find fun and more in minerals, and I hope that through this website I can help you do just that.

Posted by: Raymond McDougall on 12.11.2013 | Filed under: Collectors | Comments (0)


Building a great collection of fine minerals involves a few fundamentals. Excellent articles have been written on the subject of what makes a connoisseur, what connoisseurs consider, what makes mineral specimens desirable, and what it takes to build a world-class collection of minerals. I list selected ones at the end of this post and I highly recommend every one. These authors are connoisseurs with decades of experience, and it’s our privilege to be able to learn from them.

My own perspective here is just a little different. It is of paramount importance to know what is involved in connoisseurship, and in fact many of us happily strive until we get there – it’s a great challenge. However, for me, the fun and the amazing experience is in the journey itself. Enjoying mineral collecting doesn’t require anyone to start with world-class specimens, or even have a world-class collection or specimen, although we may all aim for that and we may be lucky enough to arrive there some day. You can be anywhere along the road and enjoying the experience, having a great mineral collection that makes you happy every day, and you have a significant role in refining what “great mineral collection” means for you personally.

So here are what I think of as seven keys to building a great mineral collection – master these, and you will be there.

1. First, Think Through What You Really Want

Most of us only really think of this much later on, once we’re way into it, even if in hindsight it would have been so great to have started here. Of all of the fundamentals, this one is probably the hardest to get a handle on, in part because real experience helps you answer it for yourself (and so to start with it can be a bit of a chicken and egg problem, but anyway…). I would strongly encourage you to think about this early, and often, as you invest years and a lot of money in a collection. It is something you will keep thinking about as you progress.

What do you want from mineral collecting and your mineral collection? You might consider this by referring to the points I set out in Mineral Collecting: Is it For Me? where I describe the things I personally get out of mineral collecting. I would also recommend Rock Currier’s writings in this context (see reference below). Which ones are important for you? If mineral collecting for you is more about personal connection to nature, for example, than other factors, you will build a different collection than you would if significance and competition was most important to you.

Regardless of how you answer this question, mineral collecting is for your enjoyment, and the best part of this gig is that you get to set many of your own rules, so set yourself up to enjoy it and succeed by understanding from the outset what you will enjoy, and what you will define success to be. Define what a great mineral collection means to you, so that you can achieve it!

It’s really worth thinking this through. Once you have some concrete ideas about it, I would even suggest writing notes in your smartphone (or somewhere) so you can remind yourself at important moments – for example, when you are at a mineral show or a great website and want to buy everything in sight because they are all just so cool – it’s really good to be able to remember your own goals.

It would be really easy to say “my goal is to have the best” – and that’s a critically important thought every collector should include in a particular way, so I’ll come back to it under Key #6 below. But if you set out with nothing more in your mind about your collection than simply that you want really only “the best” – by which I mean a collection of mineral specimens that are truly world-class by the standards of the mineral collecting elite – you are setting yourself up for some really hard moments unless you have unlimited funds, unlimited time, unlimited space and resources, and are uncommonly able to be in the right place at the right time. You may well have world-class specimens in your collection, now or in future, but if the only thing you have in mind is “the best”, you’ll miss out on a lot of amazing things in the world of minerals!

Once you’ve thought about this a bit, just take the bull by the horns. (You can refine and change later – most of us do, in some way.) What kind of collection do you think you’d like to build? What drives you? What fascinates you? And what practical considerations like financial and space resources come into the equation? Do you want a wide-open, no-limits kind of collection? Would you prefer a collection that has focus? Would you limit yourself to higher-end specimens only? Does the challenge of collecting as many species as possible beckon to you?

If you are not new to mineral collecting, you will know about ther kinds of collections people build, and you may already have a focus or a specialty (or none at all). But in case this is a new topic for you, there are various ways to approach this and here are some examples:

Wide Open – No Limits

You can choose to be unlimited in what you collect. I personally chose this route. The great part about it is that you can add anything you like to your collection.

Ultimate freedom to love the mineral specimens that grab you. Nothing suggesting what you “should” add to your collection. The challenge is endless. And it’s a great way to go. You do need thorough knowledge of the factors that are considered to characterize fine mineral specimens and connoisseurship, and after that, it’s all open. But this does have some potential drawbacks for some people, so you might want to think about whether these matter to you personally: it is hard to achieve significance (if having a collect that stands out in comparison to others matters to you), it is hard to become a true expert, it could easily be more expensive than any of us can afford or reasonably justify spending on minerals and so it (if this last one doesn’t apply to you, that’s awesome), it can take more space than you have, and your collection will likely always be very “incomplete”. I personally had no problem facing up to any of those – in fact, for example, I always loved it that the collection could never be called “complete”. If your collection is very far from “complete”, that means a new challenge is always out there – who the heck cares if you’re missing representatives of key minerals? You can always see those in other ways. You have mineral specimens you enjoy, and a challenge that never runs out, and so what could be better? However that was just my choice. Many people specialize – in part, because they can achieve greater significance with their collection, in less time, and in part because it may seem like it will allow them to get closer to “the best”, although… turns out it’s not that simple…

Specialization by Mineral Type or Geography

The great thing about specializing is that you can scale your mineral collection to suit you. You can choose a single mineral species, or a group of species. You can choose geography or locality – a very common way to specialize – and your choice can be something broad like the minerals of the United States or the minerals of Canada, something more limited like the minerals of a particular region, province or state, or you can even specialize in a single locality. The advantages are obvious – you can collect a mineral specimens within a much more limited scope, you can become an expert, and you can stand out from many others. You can also devote your time and money within one specific field and so you may develop a higher calibre collection (taken as a whole, if that matters to you) than you might have done otherwise. But of course nothing in life is perfect, and there is a disadvantage, which you may or may not care about and may or may not be relevant to the specialization you choose: depending on what you choose, you may well not be the only one with that specialty, and in fact there may be many people with that specialty, so there can be serious competition for specimens within a specialty. It’s no issue at all if you don’t care about such things, or if an area of specialization is any of a large number of broader ones, but it does mean that it can be just as hard, or sometimes harder, to be as close to the level of “the best” or “complete” as you might like.

In contrast to the ultimate freedom of the wide open collection, having a specialty will drive your collection in a particular direction. For example, if you specialize in one mineral, and there is a significant new find of that mineral, you should add a specimen from that find. Or if your geographic region produces something new of significance, you will feel that you should add it. The good news is, obviously, if you’ve chosen your area of specialization well, you’d be naturally inclined to add those specimens anyway even if you had not chosen an area of specialization!

Other Specializations

There are of course many other ways to specialize. Explore whatever inspires you. For example, it could be something like “gem minerals”, or minerals from a particular type of deposit (such as pegmatite minerals or ore minerals), or maybe fluorescent minerals. Or it could be a specialization related to the kind of specimen – a collection of single crystals, for example (crystals with no matrix).

Limiting your Collection by Size

For so many reasons, size is an important thing to think about, regardless of whether you use it to limit your collection. In fact, I feel so strongly about this one that I have written a separate post about it  – Size Matters!. I favour at least a little bit of flexibility when it comes to size – personally I think of size considerations more as guidelines than actual rules – (Captain Barbossa’s view of the Pirate’s Code… but I digress…). Some collectors are very strict about this, and impose size restrictions to dictate the development of their collection, which can be as good a way as any to define your collection. And certainly if formal competition matters to you, size specifications are often strict. Size restriction does relate to other aspects of what you appreciate about minerals – the smaller you are willing to go, the more likely you are to achieve incredibly high quality, and of course many of the mineral species simply don’t occur in larger sizes, so if you are interested in a large number of species, small specimens will work well anyway.

2. Quality, Quality, Quality

“There are three things that matter in property: location, location, location.” Often attributed to British real estate tycoon Lord Harold Samuel, this has become a timeless statement of a principle in the real estate industry. Of course there are more things that matter in real estate, but we get the idea. When it comes to collecting fine minerals, the three things that matter are quality, quality, quality.

Like real estate, sure, this is a major over-simplification of a complex subject. There are many factors to consider and you will want to know them all cold, and you should have your own view on every one of them.  They are discussed more in Key # 3, next.

But to me, quality rules the day.

Of course, insisting on “perfect” quality can also be taken to extremes and will leave you in an absolutely impossible place – if you inspect perfect-looking cabinet or even miniature specimens with magnification, you will almost always find a nick or a chip not immediately visible to the eye, particularly once you get to magnification. True perfection is most often unattainable (micros excepted). At some point, an insistence on high quality can verge on obsessive and unhelpful, and yes, I have been there. If you insist on complete true perfection, you could find yourself unable to enjoy the vast majority of mineral specimens, even fine ones. Some level of damage (hopefully nominal, often only visible with magnification, or peripheral) is going to be part of virtually all mineral collections – it’s a matter of what level you choose is acceptable for you. Some minerals, particularly the very rare, are not even available in undamaged specimens – or if it is possible to obtain one, the price may be beyond the reach of any mere mortal. And some specimens you field collected may have perfection in many regards, like a perfect crystal or more, but may not be perfect all the way around – you’ll still treasure the specimens you collect yourself.

So what level is “right”, or acceptable? It’s personal, but within some guidelines. There should be no visual distraction from damage. Of course that’s a subjective statement – what distracts one person may not distract the next – but if you are looking at a specimen, think about whether a reasonable knowledgeable collector would say that there is damage which is visually distracting.

My best advice is set the bar as high as you can, particularly when buying minerals. This will enable you to have a top quality collection and enjoy the minerals all along the way. My own personal level of acceptable damage is none evident visually, or extremely low and not visually distracting from the main viewing angle, and I hope that’s obvious from this website.

I insist upon excellent quality from the front, main, optimal viewing angle. I do not typically insist upon 360 degree freedom from damage, and certainly not 360 degrees in all dimensions – because it’s almost impossible and I’d be able to enjoy few minerals if I did that. Almost all specimens have points where they were originally attached to the host rock and had to be removed, so there will be points of attachment or rough broken rock evidencing that removal. (On this subject, it is possible to find “floaters” – specimens of crystals that are complete all around and formed suspended in a liquid with no points of attachment – but floaters are relatively limited in occurrence.) There are collectors who do expect every specimen in their collection to have only a point of attachment at the bottom of the specimen, and for the specimen to be otherwise damage and contact-free in 360 degrees. Exclusive club.

Before I move on from this subject, just a note about the terms “damage” and “contacts”. Usually the term damage is used to denote damage caused by human activity, although it can also apply to naturally broken crystals. There is another concept which affects many mineral specimens and that is the notion of a “contact” or that a specimen is “contacted”. A “contact” on a mineral specimen is an area of the specimen where the crystals naturally grew up against something else – sometimes it was another crystal, and others it will simply have been the other side of the vein or pocket, where the crystal cavity did not leave enough space for proper crystal growth. Contacts are obviously viewed as a detraction from specimen perfection, but are not considered to be the same kind of issue for a specimen as damage. Contacts may or may not be visually distracting, which again is a personal consideration. But usually contacts don’t cause the same kind of grief for people that damage does – they are a natural aspect of the mineral specimen’s history and are judged on the basis of how distracting they are. Many specimens cannot be extracted without some kind of contact at least around the periphery.

I’ve written about quality and damage elsewhere on our site too, including in Guidelines for Buying Our Minerals.

Finally I feel I should note that when it comes to some mineral specimens – pieces that are so significant as to stand out among all minerals for what they are – quality becomes only one of many considerations. Maybe it’s like real estate where a unique historic castle on a nondescript out-of-the-way hill will not be considered on a location basis the way a normal house on the same hill would, but in mineral collecting, a world-class specimen for the ages may have been damaged and repaired and/or restored and that fact seems to be overshadowed by the significance of the specimen. If you’d like to read more about mineral specimen treatments and alterations, see Beware the Hand of Man: Fakes, Treatments, Repairs and Other Alterations.

3. Become Super Knowledgeable! Part 1 – Essential Criteria for Fine Mineral Specimens

I could have started with knowledge as Key #1 , as your own knowledge is what will make the difference as to the mineral collection you are able to build.

If you’ve already read the articles I cite at the end of this post, you’ll know that each of them contains a full discussion of various criteria and factors that should be considered by all collectors of fine minerals when buying minerals for a collection, and in particular a display collection. If you haven’t read the articles, they are thoughts from some of the top people in mineral collecting, so it’s really worth tracking them down! Since they already more than do the topic justice, I’m not going to write about the different criteria at any length.

However, in case you have yet to read any of them, here is a list of some essential criteria that everyone in mineral collecting would agree are important in determining the desirability of a mineral specimen, to at least some degree (and depending on the context of a particular specimen) and they will typically impact a specimen’s price:
– overall aesthetics (yes, this is both objective and highly subjective at times)
– condition/quality
– excellent crystal development
– physical attributes including colour, transparency and lustre
– rarity
– matrix
– size
– provenance (history as to the find and former collections in which the specimen has been included) and
– balanced proportion (size of crystal(s) on matrix).

Very few mineral specimens hit on all of these – they are just each factors to consider. Many will not apply to a given specimen – for example, if a mineral is black, colour won’t matter, but crystal form will, likely; some minerals from a find never have matrix; many specimens have no important provenance, and so on (and we could discuss provenance as a factor some other time… some people rank it highly and others do not). My purpose here is simply to highlight that these are fundamentals, and they are discussed in good thought-provoking writings. Whether or not you ultimately agree with the points made in these writings (you will at least rank the criteria in your own order and may discard a few of them as less important to you), they would be considered generally to be the most commonly applied criteria in discerning differences among – and pricing of – fine mineral specimens.

Once you’ve spent time thinking about these essentials and applying them to the specimens you see (in your collection, online, at shows, in museums and collections) you will have developed this body of knowledge and will be able to refine your thoughts.

4. Become Super Knowledgeable! Part 2 – Minerals and Localities

Part 1 was the easier one. If you’re going to build a great collection, it’s all in the facts you know about minerals and localities. The more you know, the better your acquisition decisions will be. Many people in Mineral Word love sharing and helping others to add to their knowledge – I know I do, and hope that will be obvious from the website.

No matter what help you obtain, the challenge offered by this Key #4 will take you the rest of your life and you still won’t know them all – there is always more we can learn (I love that!). Don’t be daunted – just absorb as you go and you’ll pick things up quickly.

Knowledge of minerals can include: for a mineral, its attributes, how it occurs, what other minerals are often associated with it, how common or rare have fine specimens been over the long term, how many fine specimens have been found, how frequently are specimens available on the market, what are the best specimens that have ever been found and which are the finest in collections.

Knowledge of localities can include all of the factual details (location, history, production), and specifically how many fine mineral specimens has the locality produced, and of what minerals; how often has the locality produced; is the locality still producing fine mineral specimens; how likely is it that the locality will continue to produce specimens, or, if not producing, produce specimens again in the future…

The good news is we really do live in a Golden Age when it comes to fine mineral publications and information (I know I’ve said this in other posts too – it’s true though – this is an amazing time for excellent publications!). There are many high quality enjoyable sources of information on minerals and localities in print and online.

5. Understand Pricing

Mineral specimen pricing can be all over the map, and if you are going to build a great collection it is essential that you develop a feel for how minerals are priced, how different dealers price minerals, and ultimately a good sense about good mineral prices. I feel strongly enough about this issue that I have written a separate post on it – Wild West Economics? Mineral Buying and Mineral Pricing.

6. Golden Rule: Buy the Best You Can Afford

A golden rule of mineral buying, we’ve all learned this one along the way. Buy the best mineral specimen you can afford at the time. When you are building a mineral collection, there is always the temptation to buy many specimens of all sorts of different minerals – they are all so cool – can’t resist! Just one more small one! Be as disciplined as you can. Life is long: you will have lots of time to buy more, and lots of time to rue truly lesser purchases. Buy the highest quality, finest specimens you can. (Of course if we took this one to the extreme we’d all just save indefinitely and never purchase specimens for our collections, so obviously there is moderation and balance required in applying this!)

7. Don’t Let Anyone Shake Your Confidence

Depending on where you are in your mineral collecting, it may be some time before you have developed enough knowledge to have confidence, but if you haven’t, you will. Of course it’s always key to keep your mind open to learning new things, no matter how much you’ve read and experienced, since one of the great things about mineral collecting is that you simply can’t learn it all – there is always more we can learn. But once you have confidence in your knowledge, this last key will become relevant. As with many other things in life, you will likely come across people out there who will voice their opinions about your specimens or your collection. There will be other collectors with their own views, and you may well come across dealers who try to steer you in particular directions. If you’ve read and absorbed what the top writers and collectors in specimen mineralogy have written, and you’ve learned well from trusted dealers, you know your stuff. Once you know the essentials, the mineral collection you build will reflect you personally – your taste, and your own understanding of why you collect minerals. Listen politely and then stay the course, building the great collection you have happily chosen to build.

Articles – Recommended Reading:

Currier, Rock H. About Mineral Collecting (2009) Series of essays by the author published in The Mineralogical Record, compiled into a single inexpensive soft-cover publication. Impossible not to become engaged by the writing style. I think this is one of the best reads ever put together for mineral collectors! (I can’t recommend this highly enough.)

Halpern, Jack.  “Criteria for Selecting Crystallized Mineral Specimens for a Display Collection” published in the March-April 2005 issue of The Mineralogical RecordPerhaps my favourite article on the criteria that make a fine mineral specimen.

Smale, Steve.  The Smale Collection: Beauty in Natural Crystals. In the “Introduction”, the author describes his perspectives on the criteria that make a great mineral specimen. (Edited by Gloria Staebler and Gunther Neumeier, Published by Lithographie LLC). Beautiful Jeff Scovil photographs of a remarkable collection, and in particular the author’s insight into the concept of “horizons” in viewing mineral specimens is great.

Thompson, Wayne A. Ikons: Classics and Contemporary Masterpieces (2007) Supplement to The Mineralogical Record. In particular, the chapter entitled “Desirability Factors in Mineral Specimens.” Amazing publication with many insights and lots of photographs of world-class mineral specimens.

Wilson, Wendell E. “The Discerning Eye”, an essay published in Bartsch, Joel A. and Wilson, Wendell E., Masterpieces of the Mineral World – Treasures from the Houston Museum of Natural Sciences  (2004) (Published by The Houston Museum of Natural Sciences and The Mineralogical Record.) Remarkable publication with photographs of wonderful specimens from the museum’s collection.

Wilson, Wendell E.Connoisseurship in Mineral Collecting”, an essay in the January-February 1990 issue of The Mineralogical Record. A great early article on the issue, which preceded many subsequent writings by others in the field.

Posted by: Raymond McDougall on 12.10.2013 | Filed under: Beginners | Comments (0)


CavansiteOk, like anything new, mineral collecting can seem daunting, but there are thousands and thousands of collectors out here and we all started somewhere. So don’t be shy about it – if you are interested, come on in! If you find that you have a love for minerals, you will absolutely not be a beginner for long – you will graduate very quickly to become a learning collector and then soon, a knowledgeable collector.

If you have arrived on this page without reading Mineral Collecting: Is it For Me?, feel free to read that too.

There are seven concrete steps you can take to start on your way. Before I get to them, I’m going to start with an idea that may sound unhelpful, but believe me, this is important to keep in mind: There is no one way to collect minerals.

Mineral collecting, like the appreciation of many other fine things in life, is of course partly about real, established criteria (discussed more in Seven Keys to Building a Great Mineral Collection), but it also truly subjective. Beyond the criteria and factors to consider, in the end, what you like is what you like. Every mineral collection is personal, and reflects the collector, so every collection is unique. And your mineral collection is supposed to be fulfilling and rewarding for you, so as you read and learn, focus on what you like – make mineral collecting be what you want it to be. Don’t lose sight of this, amidst all of the things you may read and all of the advice and opinions you may receive (even on this website). Remain confident about what you like!

So where do you start? Well, the steps below are the ones I took, and many collectors have taken these steps in varying proportions – usually learning from others, and then passing them down.

1. Read!

Start today. Read mineral publications and websites (more about that below). If it is ultimately about what you like, it’s a pretty good idea to discover what that is! (all these years later, I’m still discovering…) Nothing is more important for your mineral collection than learning, and there are many ways to do that. Learn about the different groups and species of minerals, their properties, and the places where they are found. To me, photographs are as important as text when it comes to learning about minerals. When I first began, I absorbed all I could from all the books I could find on minerals.

While many collectors would agree that we live in a Golden Age for mineral collecting, with so many amazing things from all over the world available for our collections, we also live in a Golden Age of writing and publication about minerals. Never before has such a broad array of excellent quality publications and superb photography been available to beginning collectors.

And the internet includes some phenomenal resources. Certainly the world is different from when I started (!).

There is no single read that will make you a mineral collector. (Thankfully! How boring would that be?) But there are some exceptionally good publications out there and I have set out a list of my favourites at Favourite Mineral Reads – they are worth every penny, if you can find them.

There are several types of writing out there, and I recommend that you just throw yourself into it. Don’t wait to find the perfect introductory text that leads you through – you’ll just pick up on things as you go.

One type of mineral book is the “Field Guide”. For many of us, a “field guide” was our first mineral book. One of the great benefits of the classic field guides is that they provide descriptions and pictures of anywhere from 100-300 minerals (nothing standardized about which they include and do not, beyond the most common ones), and they are usually organized by mineral group (minerals classified by their chemistry). I personally think of the minerals you would find commonly described in most field guides as the “Top 200″. Yes, there are more than 4500 mineral species in the world and you could easily be overwhelmed if you try to bite off on that all at once, but realistically most collectors will spend most of their time enjoying the Top 200, so that’s where to begin. Of course you can challenge yourself to become one of the few who ventures far beyond the Top 200, but particularly when you are starting out, the Top 200 are good ones to learn.

Another important kind of book is the collector-oriented publication, a genre in which there was almost nothing available when I was starting out. Some of these books are primarily collections of fantastic photographs of stunning specimens, and they include writings on some of the key characteristics of great mineral specimens. Other books include views on mineral collecting as a hobby, and overviews of world localities. And finally, in the world of collection-oriented publications, there are the publications dedicated to some of the finest private collections ever assembled – these are fantastic learning resources.

Among periodical publications, there are three mainstream truly excellent English language ones published for mineral collectors – each is a little different from the next.  The Mineralogical Record is an excellent, high quality publication, with issues every second month since 1970.  Articles vary, often featuring the minerals of a particular locality or region, also featuring collections, collectors, historical matters – I read every issue cover to cover. It is focused specifically on fine minerals and often on higher-end specimens, and varies from easy reading to technical material for amateurs. A fantastic group of publications is produced by Lithographie LLC, including a set of monographs published every several months since 2001 – these are wonderful quality and great reads – I can’t recommend them highly enough. A third and the longest-running, dating back to the 1920s, is Rocks and Minerals, which is another with issues published every two months. Rocks and Minerals covers a very broad scope of topics, from minerals to fossils, and is fairly accessible, rarely technical. Two other excellent English language publications are the UK Journal of Mines and Minerals and the Australian Journal of Mineralogy. In other languages there are several top mineral publication including Lapis and Mineralien Welt, both in German, Le Regne Minerale in French and Rivista Mineralogica Italiana in Italian.

There are several other kinds of books in Mineral World. Wonderful individual books are often geographic, focusing on the minerals of a particular area. Some collecting books including guides to field techniques and then there are many guides to actual collecting localities.

Once you have tested the waters a bit, you may have an idea about whether all minerals fascinate you or certain ones more so, and, more important, what it is that you like about minerals. This will help you hone in on what you’d like to read next.

2. Learn Online

Although it was not possible when I was starting out, the internet is an incredible way to learn about minerals, and the learning resources (at this site and others) are free. I’ve been learning this way since the late 90s. You can find excellent detailed information, discussion threads and lots more at Dedicated to providing information and even community, mindat is a website like no other. A small number of sites, like McDougall Minerals, offer both mineral specimens for sale and interesting content (some noted at Favourite Mineral Websites).

Beyond these, there is real learning to be done about the world of mineral collecting and mineral dealing, just by observing and making distinctions about what you see available from mineral dealers online. I think of this as one of the greatest of opportunities in the modern mineral collecting era for two reasons:

(1) This is the way to keep up. There is simply no better way to keep current, and to truly understand what is being found in the world today. Most new finds and discoveries are reflected in what becomes available from mineral dealers. In the past, it used to be that dealers would only “debut” new finds at major mineral shows, but now new finds often make their way to websites as soon as they are available. If you subscribe for updates from our website (here) and your other favourite sites, an email will tell you when there’s something new, and you’ll be in-the-know. And when you attend shows, you will have much better context and knowledge for evaluating what you are seeing available.

(2) The internet provides the fastest way to learn how to comparison shop for minerals, and how to build the mineral collection you want to build. Take all of what you have learned, as you learn it, and apply it to minerals being offered for sale online. Think as critically as you can about all of what you see out there. Certainly if you can’t make it to a museum or collection locally (see below), you can apply exactly the same kinds of critical questions to the specimens you see online.

On these sites, the minerals themselves can teach you a lot. The minerals available online represent every band on the spectrum of mineral specimen collecting, from the best to the worst. Look carefully and come to your own conclusions.

Some things to note in particular are: (a) Quality – Is there any damage (since most mineral specimens are not perfect) and if so, is it inconspicuous or visually distracting?  (b) Accuracy – has the specimen itself been rendered accurately and carefully by the website? Are the colours representative of the specimen or are they overly saturated? This could be your computer monitor too… (You can tell about the level of care that has been taken by reading about the photography used on the website, if the website provides this information – on this website, please read About Our Photographs)

Has any part of the specimen been noticeably left out of focus? (sometimes I have seen people leave damaged portions of specimens out of focus in a photo). And then there are some obvious distinctions to make about the dealing side of what you see out there. Price comparison is obvious. There is often an evident reason for differences, based on the qualities and characteristics of mineral specimens themselves, BUT there is very often not a good reason you should necessarily pay a lot more to one dealer over another – the reasons for price discrepancies can be very complex and may have very little to do with what you yourself will receive. Have a look at Wild West Economics? Mineral Buying and Mineral Prices. An excellent way to start comparing mineral specimen prices online is by using the website

3. Visit Museums and Collections

Books and high quality photographs are awesome, but there’s something special about seeing mineral specimens in person. I think partly this may be because so many of us love the feeling of thinking “that can’t be natural – it can’t be real” when we see an amazing specimen. Seeing it in person helps to bring home that it’s real, it really is that colour, it really is that lustrous, it really is that shape.

Experience minerals in person however you can. There are excellent mineral collections on public display all over the world, particularly in museums and at universities. I have spent hours at a time at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto (a fantastic collection, if you’re ever in the neighbourhood do not miss it!). During my undergrad in Montreal at McGill I often pored over the large collection on campus, displayed in the former layout of the Redpath Museum.

Of course it’s a great thing to experience this kind of natural beauty face to face (ok, face to rock). But it’s more than this: you can learn a ton this way! Try to notice which things draw you. Ask yourself “If I could have only five of these in my collection, which ones would they be?” Then ask yourself, why those? Think critically when you view each of the specimens in a collection – is it an excellent specimen? Is it not? Why?

Museums and collections can also be very interesting windows into the history of mining and mineral collecting. They often include specimens from the history of mining and mineral collecting that are difficult or nearly impossible to obtain today. So I always  learn that way too when viewing collections.

And finally, perhaps the most universal reason people attend museums and collections – they often contain some truly amazing, inspiring mineral specimens.

4. Go Field Collecting!

If you’ve read About Me,  you’ll know mineral collecting in the field has been the foundation for everything I’ve done in mineral collecting, and that’s true for many of us who have gone on to become seriously involved in the world of mineral collecting. That first true collecting trip to the Bancroft Area was the one that opened my eyes to the fun, challenge and adventure of chasing minerals. (In case you’re curious, that trip was to the York River Skarn Zone, a locality near Bancroft, Ontario,  famous for grossular garnet and diopside, among other minerals – sadly, currently closed to collecting.) When you collect in the field, you will learn things about minerals that you just don’t learn any other way.

When you are out in the field, whether it is at an active or inactive quarry, mine or prospect, or natural rock exposure such as along a shoreline, or in the mountains or woods, you see the way the rocks and minerals occur in the ground. You may see veins, pockets and vugs containing minerals, and this gives you amazing context for all the other things you will see and read in mineral collecting. You also immediately develop an appreciation for just how uncommon it is to find beautiful things out there – this helps you to value the things you do find yourself, and also to value the specimens you buy.

No matter how amazing a collection including killer specimens you may ultimately be able to build for yourself through purchases, you will always truly love and appreciate the fine mineral specimens you collected yourself. There is just nothing like the feeling of opening a pocket or climbing into a vein and pulling out something beautiful that has never before been seen by anyone.

Aside from the minerals themselves, for many of us, mineral collecting is fundamentally about getting out to different places, near and far, many of which involve adventure and being out in nature. Most of us wish we did far more field collecting than we ever seem to have time to do.

Since the nuts and bolts of field collecting comprise a rather broad separate topic(!), you can read more introductory thoughts about it in Field Collecting. What I want to say here is that I can’t recommend it strongly enough. Even if this is not how you plan to build your collection, and even if you only go out once, perhaps as a participant on an organized club trip (see below), it will open your eyes to what mineral collecting is all about in a way that nothing else will.

5. Join Your Local Mineral Club

There are hundreds of mineral clubs out there. It is very likely there is at least one near you. Some are more focused on mineral specimens, and others are more involved in gems and working with minerals – cutting, polishing and so on. Mineral clubs can provide great opportunities to:

  • (1) Meet People.  When you are first starting out, it’s really nice to be able to meet and talk with others in mineral collecting. If you are going to find local friends in mineral collecting, you will likely meet them this way. You may also be lucky enough to come across one or more mentors who enjoy teaching beginners. Many people involved in mineral collecting are very generous with their knowledge. I’m a long-time member of the Walker Mineralogical Club in Toronto and the Bancroft Gem and Mineral Club, and have developed many friendships through them!
  • (2) Learn From Excellent Presentations.  Mineral clubs often arrange to have excellent speakers make presentations about various mineral topics. Some presenters have beautiful and fascinating slide presentations and some will even bring specimens along to display along with the presentation.
  • (3) Go Field Collecting! (It’s worth my mentioning again in this context.) Mineral clubs very often either lead field collecting trips or are affiliated with an organization (like a club federation) that leads these trips, so mineral clubs can be a great way to be introduced to field collecting. Many mineral club members actually quite enjoy teaching others about how to collect, and about the mineral occurrences they visit, so these can be excellent experiences. Mineral clubs and federations can often manage to arrange permission to collect in localities that are otherwise not open to casual collecting, so your local mineral club will often be your ticket into mineral localities you will want to visit.
  • (4) See Other Mineral Collections.  Many of the serious collectors in your community will be members of the local mineral club. Even if this is not always the case, some will be, and some of them will be quite happy to have you visit to see their own mineral collections. As I’ve noted above, any chance you have to go and see a mineral collection, it’s a great opportunity.

6. Attend a Mineral Show

There are hundreds of mineral shows worldwide every year. Chances are that there is one you can get to, if you want to.

Typical mineral shows will include dealers of both natural mineral specimens and various things involving minerals such as jewellery. But mineral shows are not only for buying, and in fact they can be a lot more valuable for other things. As with museums and collections, mineral shows offer you the chance to see mineral specimens in person. Many mineral shows include educational content – presentations, guest displays from collections, and even in some cases mineral activities for children and locally-organized field trips. And usually mineral shows are attended by others in your area who are involved in mineral collecting, so mineral shows can be great for connecting with others.

You can start locally, and if you’re lucky enough to be located near any of the large shows, or lucky enough to be able to travel to any of them, you should not miss the chance.

In Bancroft, for example, we actually have two great shows, one in late July and one at the start of August (discussed in About Bancroft).

The world’s largest annual shows include Tucson, Arizona (more or less the first two weeks of February, this is the largest and most mind-blowing of them all), Ste Marie aux Mines, France (late June), Springfield, Massachusetts (August), Denver, Colorado (September) and Munich, Germany (October).

And although not the largest by size, I love the annual Rochester Mineralogical Symposium (April), which is as good and well-rounded an experience as you will have at any mineral event anywhere. The Rochester Symposium is focused on sharing and learning, and includes some phenomenal speakers on mineral topics from around the world. Rochester also includes a room of amazing guest displays from museums and private collectors, and also a section for those interested in micromounting. Of course there are mineral dealers and opportunities to acquire specimens, but Rochester is a lot about sharing the world of minerals and enjoying the company of good mineral friends.

OK, let’s get back to where we were going, and sorry to go on about Rochester – but if you can get to it, it’s so worth it.

And so… once you’ve been to a mineral show and taken some or all of the other steps above, if you are still keen, well now you’re on the dark path… you can start building a fine mineral collection, and acquiring fine mineral specimens.

7. Make Your First Mineral Acquisitions Intelligently

So if you’ve read this far and you haven’t clicked off into the wild blue yonder, it seems you have the makings of a real mineral collector. Which is totally awesome.

If you are going to buy mineral specimens for your mineral collection, I have learned through over 25 years of real experience (some great experiences and some not-so-great!) that the key is to do it intelligently, thoughtfully and carefully. Through this website, I share some of what I have learned about minerals and mineral collecting, with many posts under Collectors, including Seven Keys to Building a Great Mineral Collection.

I hope that this and other sources of information will be truly helpful in developing a lifelong passion for mineral collecting. It is a wonderful pursuit and you will love it.

Posted by: Raymond McDougall on 11.26.2013 | Filed under: Beginners | Comments (0)


If you want to build a collection of minerals and truly enjoy minerals, you need the confidence to be able to identify different minerals. You will start to learn more about where different minerals come from. If you become a dedicated collector and read a lot, you may even become knowledgeable enough to be able to look at some mineral specimens and say approximately when the specimen was collected. Eventually you may even become someone who can sometimes look at a mineral specimen and even name the pocket it came from – yes, it happens to those of us who truly love minerals.

But we all start at exactly the same place, where we don’t have much knowledge at all and we decide we want to really learn about minerals. If you haven’t already read it, see Seven Easy Things You Can Do to Start Mineral Collecting, and if you have already read it, you’ll note that several of the steps there involve interaction with minerals themselves, and learning about those minerals.

The single most fundamental skill you require, if you want to challenge yourself to become a mineral collector, is the skill to identify minerals. There are basic identification skills we all learn – they are simple and become second nature. You will eventually know so many of the minerals visually that you won’t have to test almost any of them, but in the beginning, there is nothing better than starting with the basics, and working through them with some test minerals, so you get a feel for it.

Any good book, such as a field guide or a text, which includes a discussion of the fundamentals of minerals or mineral collecting will do an excellent job of explaining specifically how to identify minerals. I list a few at the end of this post. And my suggestion is don’t just read them – read with minerals at your side. This works best with things that are rough, not pretty, and not perfect – often, something you collected yourself. Conduct the standard tests the books describe.

Test out scrap pieces. Do hardness tests on parts you don’t mind scratching. Make sure you can see and distinguish the cleavage of the minerals, colour, lustre and degree of transparency/translucency/opacity. Specific gravity is another test that can really help with identification. My friend (and well known long-time mineral dealer) John Betts has posted a great article on specific gravity testing on his website – if you’re going to test SG, read this first! Streak colour can help with certain minerals. If you have crystal faces on your test specimen so that you can identify the crystal shape, that will be extremely helpful (don’t be fooled though – perfect cleavage shapes can sometimes look like crystal faces and shapes).

Once you have an idea of the test results, look at any decent identification key (also sometimes called “determinative tables”) – these can be found in field guides, texts and online. One good online example is here, and looking on a search engine will lead you to more fine ones. So, for example, if you have conducted your tests using the book, and you have determined that you have a specimen of a mineral that is non-metallic, cream coloured, translucent, with vitreous lustre, perfect cleavage in the form of a rhombohedron, and a hardness of 3, you can line all those properties up in an identification key and land at calcite, or maybe a similar mineral (more specific information may help to distinguish – the devil can be in the details).

Try it out on different kinds of things, or, if you have bought minerals that are already identified, examine them together with the descriptions in field guides so that you learn what the different terminology means and can see the characteristics being described. This kind of practice will very quickly train your eye to make distinctions and begin to make identification very straightforward for you.

I would go so far as to say that mineral identification is the test that will tell you whether you are truly interested in minerals. I see so many postings of poor quality photographs to online mineral forum discussions with the question “what is this rock?” and providing no other diagnostic information. Each posting suggests to me that, sadly, the person posting the photo is not really interested in minerals. There is challenge and fun in learning and working with rocks and minerals – if a person does not have even the interest to open an easily available book and try, or to type “mineral identification” into Google and look around a bit online before pulling out a smartphone and interrupting the world at large, serious mineral collecting is probably not for that person. (As an aside, it is usually not possible to identify a randomly collected mineral from a photograph – you need the information from the basic diagnostic tests to be able to distinguish enough to make an identification.)

However, if you have made it this far reading this, you are thankfully not a lazy smartphone person, and I am happy to be able to tell you that mineral identification is fun, becomes easier to learn as you go, and has never been easier, given all the amazing resources we have at our fingertips. So as you do the Seven Easy Things You Can Do to Start Mineral Collecting, make sure you develop mineral identification as a core skill. Once you learn it you never lose it, and it will help you know when a mineral specimen is worthy of your collection.

Excellent General Books and Field Guides

Sinkankas, John. Mineralogy for Amateurs (1964) (D. Van Nostrand Company Inc.) My favourite general mineralogy book – written for non-professionals with real interest in learning about minerals, this book explains the essential concepts in an engaging style.

Pough, Frederick H. A Field Guide to Rocks and Minerals (1998). Peterson Field Guide Series (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) Most mineral collectors have a copy of this classic field guide!

Hurlbut, Cornelius S. and Klein, Cornelis (after J.D. Dana). Manual of Mineralogy (currently, in its 23rd edition, this is Dutrow, Barbara and Kelin, Cornelis, Manual of Mineral Science 2007). (John Wiley & Sons Inc.). My 20th edition has Appendix I – Determinative Tables – which were very helpful before the days of online mineral identification keys. This is the evolution of the original text by Dana, first published in 1848, and is to this day the classic used in introductory mineralogy courses in university. Lots of great information, this is a university-level text written about the science of mineralogy, and also including lots of fine descriptions of minerals.